Nearly two centuries ago, the region on our Eastern borders was not the volcanic wasteland it is today. It was a land as beautiful as our own, but inhabited by another culture, the so-called Crusaders, whose very nature was intemperate and undisciplined. Whilst we in the Alliance lived in harmony with the land, valuing and living at one with nature, their highly skilled scientists sought to control and subdue nature through their technology. Whilst we lived in peace and were tolerant to all, they were aggressive and expansionist and viewed our lands and our lives with covetous eyes. Whilst we respected nature, they sought to modify the very face of the continents, shifting the tectonic plates beneath their feet to create more territory for their ever-expanding population by detonating nuclear explosives deep within the Earth. But in their hubris they over-reached themselves…
According to Brother Telem, in his book ‘The Origins of the Insurgency’, this is how it all began, and the righteous struggle of the Alliance against the Crusaders, and their attack force the Insurgency, has continued unabated ever since. Kaspar Wilding has never known anything else. He grew up with his uncle Jeff on a farm at the edge of the badlands, his parents casualties of the conflict, and now he’s becoming a Guardian and carrying on the fight against the terrorists.
Kaspar has been a great student and he’s ready to become a great Guardian, until he starts to feel that everything is not quite as it seems. At his graduation ceremony, there is an attack; he and his mentor discover that the big explosions are a diversion and in fact the real target was a computer terminal inside the headquarters. When they burst in to apprehend the terrorists, dressed all in black like some kind of ninja, the young man simply smiles and kills himself. When Kaspar checks the terminal, the information accessed doesn’t even seem to be of military value. It’s a mystery – what was the Insurgency mission really for? Is there more to them than meets the eye?
For me, Malorie Blackman has always been the true master of Young Adult dystopian fiction, beginning with Noughts and Crosses, the incredibly successful novel and series delving into issues of racism, segregation, relationships and extremism. Many have imitated her, some have come close to or even equalled her success – I’m thinking particularly of The Hunger Games – but none have done it better. In Noble Conflict, Blackman returns to the setting of a futuristic dystopia, but this is a militarised world where the inhabitants of the Alliance live with the spectre of terrorism, fuelled by constant access to rolling news and media reports.
It could be argued that young adult dystopian fiction is a saturated genre but I don’t believe that after reading this. If Noughts and Crosses or The Hunger Games were in part working on concerns stemming from youth radicalism after 9/11, Noble Conflict has moved on to Operation Neptune’s Spear – it’s not about the terrorists any more, it’s about how the authorities, be they secular, political or religious, can use their actions, defeats and victories to their own advantage. Would Barack Obama be President of the US for a second term if Osama bin Laden weren’t somewhere at the bottom of the ocean right now? And, apart from anything else, did I mention it’s a great story?
I really enjoyed Noble Conflict. It’s action-packed, fast-paced and filled with technological detail and weaponry which really spoke to my inner fanboy science fiction geek. It was refreshing to read some YA which felt totally unsimplified and unpatronising in this respect, and I also loved the sections where Kaspar and and Mac, potential love interest but more importantly data manipulation wizard, use the Academy databases to search for patterns of information to help them investigate their conspiracy theories. Nice to see that Mac is the expert in these scenes, too.
Given the level of complexity and some of the swearing, I’d say we’re looking at the older end of the market for YA and Noble Conflict was certainly very readable as an adult too. Importantly, I think it’s just as accessible for male readers as for females, probably more so than the exploits of Katniss Everdeen. I’d highly recommend Noble Conflict for those who enjoy conspiracy theories, thrillers, action, science fiction and a great adventure.
Noble Conflict is published by Doubleday, out 4th July.