Review: Oblivion, by Anthony Horowitz

oblivionbookOne chance to save humankind.
The earth has almost been destroyed by the forces of darkness.  Those who have survived are barely human, drifting in a world ruled by famine, terrorism and war.  Any last hope now rests with five extraordinary teenagers: the Gatekeepers.
The Five must find each other and make a final stand against Chaos, King of the Old Ones… but Chaos is everywhere.  He calls to them from Antarctica, where he is gathering his forces, preparing for a last battle in the frozen wasteland of Oblivion.  And one of the Five has turned traitor.
The others know that without him they cannot win.
Chaos beckons.  Oblivion awaits.

It was hard to stay calm when I first picked up my copy of Oblivion – I read the first four installments of the Power of Five series over the summer of 2012, becoming more and more drawn into the saga, as the characters developed and matured and Horowitz created an increasingly horrific, apocalyptic world, infected by the evil of the Old Ones. 

In these four, I felt that each one improved on the last, and Oblivion, the final book, was no exception – the thickest by far, and it had to be to tie up all those loose ends, it delivered on every count.  It’s tense, intricately plotted, exciting but also packed with great, fully rounded characters with believable interior lives, rather than just sidekicks in the story to enable the central Five.

Not all of the plot of Oblivion comes as a great surprise; Scott, twin brother of Jamie, has always been something of a dark presence and he loses faith in Matt and the group.  This didn’t feel like a disappointment or a ‘predictable’ twist – he had been a victim of the Nightrise Corporation, the corporate face of the Old Ones, in a previous book – but some of his actions once he gives up resisting are actually quite shocking, and he also gives us an insight into the other side of the story, the preparations of the Old Ones against the Five, at Oblivion, in Antarctica.

“I really appreciated that the punches aren’t pulled in this novel”

Matt, by this point, has very much taken on the mantle of leader, and Horowitz allows to him to continue accordingly in Oblivion.  But as well as his visionary abilities, Matt has to take on the worst suffering as well.  Horowitz really puts him through the ringer, far past anything he’s experienced so far.  I really appreciated that the punches aren’t pulled in this novel.  Matt’s suffering is described without euphemism, completely honestly; it’s moving, chilling and eventually genuinely horrific, but without at any time becoming gratuitous.  That’s often more than can be said for adult SFF/speculative fiction; I think it shows a real respect for the reader.

I enjoyed the idea that the Five had been split up at the end of book four, and had to reunite, and I also really like the device used to explain the way that the world seemed to have changed so dramatically.  I’ve read a fair bit of post-apocalyptic YA fiction in the past and I wasn’t expecting it here, so it was an interesting development.  It’s always great to get a bit of Britain-in-chaos, with terrifying police swooping in.  It made me wonder if Horowitz is getting a bit political here, commenting on the effect of capitalism and lack of respect for the natural world.  It was great to see all the characters getting a turn to be kick-ass, even Pedro, who has sometimes come across as less powerful, and Scarlett, the newest recruit.

With regard to reading this as a stand-alone novel, I have to say don’t even think about it.  There is so much back story that, although Horowitz does a fantastic job reminding us what’s happening, you simply won’t have the understanding of the complex context for Oblivion to work on its own.  Go back to the beginning, and start reading from there.  Believe me, it’s worth it.  If you enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, or even post-apocalyptic adventurous YA, you won’t be disappointed.

Oblivion, by Anthony Horowitz, is published by Walker, at £16.99 hardback, or ebook

Kate Neilan

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