I have read and enjoyed all Richard Blake’s historical works. Because of this, I was a tad reluctant to begin his foray into “dystopian science fiction”. My experience as a reader is that those writers who have establish themselves in one genre very often underwhelm (to put it mildly) when trying their hand in another. Happily, my misgivings here were unjustified.
The premise of “The Break” is that modern England has by some unexplained accident or miracle been transported backward into the world of 1064. The UK and all within are unchanged, but everything 300 yards or so from the shore is the world of nearly a thousand years ago. There are Normans and Byzantines and the Catholic Church. Everything modern has vanished. The response of the British Government to this dislocation has been the imposition of a total police state. All contact with the outside world is severely forbidden. Food supplies are seized for the ruling class and its cronies, and a third of the population has starved to death in the immediate chaos. The survivors are fed a diet of trash food and trash culture, and endless lies. Anyone who dares to step out of line is seized for slave labour in mediaeval Ireland, which is being conquered as a plantation and general dumping ground.
What is so clever about all of this is that hardly anything is immediately explained; what we learn is learned gradually, through the characters. Indeed, not until half-way through does someone explain to one of the Outsiders what she believes has happened.
The main focus of the story is on two characters. There is Jennifer, a teenage girl who lives in Deal on the Kent coast. Her father has been using his knowledge of Latin to run a smuggling trade across the Channel – providing aspirins, sanitary towels, cigarettes, and so on, in exchange for silver (and he may also be up to something else). But he and his wife are arrested at the beginning of the novel, and so Jennifer must travel to London to see if she can get them back.
In London, Jennifer meets the second main character. Michael is the nephew of a Byzantine ambassador, and has come with said ambassador in order to establish the truth of the many wild stories now pouring into Constantinople regarding a formerly unheard of but supposedly remarkable people who just might be of assistance in the Empire’s desperate struggle for existence. Following his uncle’s death at the hands of a broken-down NHS, Michael finds himself on the run in the ravaged vastness of London.
I’ll say no more of the plot, which is as long and intricate as anything else by Mr Blake. Through the skillful shifting of perspective from one character to another, the reader is given a wealth of information, and (almost) all becomes clear. The entire novel can be summed up as first-rate. A high point is the build up to and description of a massacre at Oxford Circus, during which the British Army goes wild – and as a result of which, the protagonists are forced on a desperate journey through the darkened tunnels of the London Underground.
No, I shall not describe the plot. I will, however, reveal that this is one of those satisfying novels where the good people end well and the bad people end very badly indeed. Also, that as I finished the last page I found myself hungering for a sequel. But this one might be a hard act to follow, even for the prodigious Richard Blake.
Review published on Amazon, the 5th April 2018
© 2018, richardblake.
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