|Fearless by Tim Lott|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A chilling future catastrophe novel with an interesting combination of Orwellian and fairy tale threads. It's slightly let down by unengaging characters and a one-size-fits-all style, but the redemption by sacrifice ending is rather wonderful.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: June 2007|
|Publisher: Walker Books Ltd|
The City Community Faith School isn't a reform school; it's a cover for a prison-workhouse in Tim Lott's future catastrophe society. Inside, filthy girls in rags labour at the City's huge laundry. They don't have teachers or lessons. For that matter, they don't have much food either. Taken from their families for petty crimes or for being the children of dissenters, the thousand girls at the school are cruelly dehumanised. They are forbidden to use their real names and are given letters and numbers instead. Privately, they use nicknames for one another but even this is forbidden. One inmate, Little Fearless, refuses to be cowed by the system. She intends to escape and alert the City's residents to their terrible plight. But when she does, nobody will believe her story.
I really, really wanted to like Fearless. I love Tim Lott. He's a wonderful writer. I like the kind of socio-political, semi sci-fi future catastrophe novel Fearless is and I think children do too - they want to explore the future and they certainly want to explore their role in shaping it through a child protagonist such as Little Fearless. I like the idea of taking easily recognisable tropes and forms from fairy tales and blending them to this Orwellian social comment. So I was really looking forward to reading the book. And I did enjoy it. Just not as much as I thought I would.
The world Lott creates in Fearless is a mix of Soviet-style work, work, rules, work, rules and more work and a corporation-run industrial sci-fi of vidscreens and narcobevs. Half of it feels grey and colourless, as life under Stalin is always described to us. But half of it is full of Matrix-style propaganda by glitter. Senses are dulled by too much input, not too little. In the end, Lott's City didn't come alive for me. Fairy tale characters are stereotypes. It's all about the narrative. In Fearless, Little Fearless is indeed fearless. She shows remarkable courage and heroism. She is stalwart and determined. She is wedded to the truth - and unlike the City Boss, she sees clearly that the truth is absolute. It cannot be manipulated. She is also capable of great sacrifice. She should be a wonderful protagonist. But somehow - I think because of the borrowed fairy tale structures - she seems cold and two-dimensional. She doesn't flow from the pages and into the heart.
I'm being horribly luke-warm about this book. And perhaps I'm giving a skewed view of it. The truth is that it's considerably better than a huge number of the other children's books being released this summer. Its easy to read but ambitious and the ending is tremendously uplifting. It's highly imaginative and it will tap into that nascent sense of justice that inspires such passion in children. Fearless is just not the heart-stopping book I hoped it would be.
Catherine Fisher's Incarceron is another about a prison set in a future world.
You can read more book reviews or buy Fearless by Tim Lott at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Fearless by Tim Lott at Amazon.com.
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