by Peter Dickinson
This one was a bit odd. It\’s apocalyptic fiction where humanity is seized by some kind of mass infectious horror of machinery. They smash cars and radios, go berserk in riots against technology and then flee cities en masse. Disease plagues spread and society breaks down with small groups of people surviving in isolation, wary of outsiders.
However most of the book isn\’t actually about that- it\’s only described briefly in the forward and epilogue, with a few instances where the main character herself is seized by a mindless urge of violence when she sees someone try to start a bus, for example, or hears someone talk about farm equipment or radios by name. She\’s ten or twelve, I was never sure of the age, and lost her family in a riot. She attaches herself to a travelling group of Indian Sikhs, originally immigrants. For some strange reason people of other nationalities were not affected by the madness against machines, only the English. The Sikhs let her join them as a kind of insurance, they call her their \”canary\” because she can tell them what kind of actions or conversation will trigger the rage of their English neighbors. They set up a community on abandoned farmland but then have to deal with nearby English group who have formed themselves into a feudal system. These neighbors are suspicious and afraid of the Sikhs, even rumoring them to be Old Ones or Fae. Most of the story is about the girl\’s adjustment to living among people foreign to her- I\’m not sure how accurately it describes Sikh culture but it depicted them as very honorable and relatively proud people. In the later part of the book, the girl takes a key role in their dealings with the English group, being a go-between and carrying messages, then later forming key strategies when it ends up in a battle. It seemed a bit improbable that a young kid would have such a leading role in strategies against the enemy, but what do I know. However I was doubtful enough that it kind of flattened my enjoyment of the story.
I got this book on swap because I acquired its sequel at a hotel, and wanted to read the series in order. Turns out this one was rather lackluster for me, but luckily the second one seems to stand on its own and I\’m already enjoying it more.
Nothing to do with the story itself, but I did really like the decoration on the cover and chapter headings, which has a medieval or celtic-looking pattern intertwining with gear cogs.
Rating: 2/5 187 pages, 1970