The Break, Reviewed by Anna

Well, that was an extremely frustrating experience. I very nearly gave up on ‘The Break’ multiple times and to be honest probably should have done. What we have here is a case of Good Idea, Poor Execution. I came across it during my dystopia keyword library trawl and liked the concept: in 2018 the UK is suddenly transported back in time to 1065. Abruptly cut off from global supply chains, many people starve and the remainder are cowed by a government run by a crude caricature of Theresa May. What caught my attention were some nicely thought through details, such as smugglers selling the treasures of the 21st century to 11th century continental Europe. Specifically paracetamol and tampons, surely two of the greatest wonders of the modern world. I liked that people used bicycles and London had reverted to burning coal and pea-souper fogs. Thus, some but not all of the world-building was interesting enough to keep me reading despite the fact that the book was, fundamentally, not well written. I feel guilty for saying that, because I’m certainly no writer myself. I am an avid and wide reader, though. As well as literary fiction, I read quantities of professionally published trash (eg the entire Merry Gentry series by Laurell K. Hamilton) and fanfiction (which is largely written by young amateur writers and not edited). ‘The Break’, I’m sorry to say, is worse in quality than both. At times I physically cringed, at others I just had no idea what was going on.

Unfortunately, that was not my only objection. While the plot was flawed and at the end simply went bananas, what really bothered me was the main character, Jennifer. She is allegedly a sixteen year old girl, something I found very hard to believe. Upon discovering that her parents have been arrested and probably sent to Ireland (which is back to its periodic historical role as England’s dumping ground), she travels to London. On the way across the capital, she murders someone who is trying to assault her. This sudden throat-cutting comes out of nowhere, as she’s not shown to have a violent background, and is not reflected in her subsequent behaviour. Next, she decides to pretend to be a sex worker and seduce her way to news of her parents. As with the throat-cutting, this behaviour does not ring true for a sixteen year old girl. It just comes off as an excuse to have a variety of men trying to look up her skirt in a distasteful fashion. Next, she decides to do some recreational shopping while still dressed like a sex worker, apparently in four inch stilettos. I very much doubt the author has ever actually worn four inch stilettos. At it happens, I owned some at the age of 16 (I resented being short) and, let me tell you, they were fucking agony. No sixteen year old girl would be stupid enough to go shopping wearing such shoes, especially in a London that has reverted to foot and horse-based travel so has no buses, tubes, or taxis. Just streets covered in horseshit.

Sadly, this was not all. While reading this initial eighty pages or so, I worried to myself, “Surely this vulnerable sixteen year old girl isn’t being described as sexy so she can be thrown together with some love interest later in the book? If that happens I’ll stop reading!” Jennifer was indeed thrown together with a young ambassador from Constantinople under implausible circumstances, but for quite a while it didn’t seem like there would be anything romantic about their relationship. The two didn’t flirt, had no indication of chemistry, and spent their time fleeing peril and, in the ambassador’s case, murdering a great many people with unsettling ease. I began to relax into what very suddenly turned out to be a false sense of security. Out of absolutely nowhere, Jennifer suddenly strips off all her clothes and climbs into a pond with the guy! After a merciful fade to black, the next scene has the pair deciding to get married! Without any indication that they are remotely interested in each other, let alone in love! What the actual fuck! If it was explained as some sort of marriage of convenience that could vaguely make sense, but no. Instead, there is this incredible insight:

Jennifer has often wondered about marriage. But a proposal after barely four days of courtship that had mostly been spent running away! She reached for Michael’s hand. It all seemed right and proper to her. Everything seemed right and proper in ways it never had before.

It was at times like this that I wondered whether the writer was messing with me, or trying to make some satirical point, or anything other than convinced that this is how you characterise a sixteen year old girl. Was their editor off sick? I won’t go into the mad science stuff with the doomsday device because, really, what’s the point. The whole thing is a clusterfuck. What a waste of an interesting idea with snippets of clever world-building. O tempora! O mores!

Review published on Goodreads, 1st November 2016

© 2016 – 2018, richardblake.

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