Blame by Simon Mayo

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Blame by Simon Mayo

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Yet another dystopian, teens-on-the-run drama such as Simon Mayo sees for his cinema show on BBC radio. This one has flashes of great originality, but doesn't get away from the format enough at times.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: July 2016
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
ISBN: 9780552569071

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A small hand in hers. 'Is it our fault?' Abi said nothing. These tender words show the situation. Ant (a teenaged girl) and Mattie (her younger brother) are innocent and in a prison – HMP London, no less. Since the death of the EU and a huge, all-conquering recession, people are being imprisoned left, right and centre for the crimes of their parents and their parents in turn, meaning anyone with any slightly dodgy firm or habit in their family that might have taken money away from the common good is having their children imprisoned. And even though Ant and Mattie are legitimately in there, due to their parents' activities, they've since been adopted by people who have themselves been accused and imprisoned, thus making them real tabloid-fodder as the worst criminal family in Britain. Surely, then, there's no hope?

Well hope seems a very distant prospect in this dystopian drama. No attempt is made at changing the society greatly from the one we know – it was a surprise to read the EU had died off, but Germany is used as the only civilised country standing against use of the 'heritage crime' ideology. That stands as about the only difference from what we know – people wear regular, modern clothes, and talk in a very regular, modern idiom. Nowhere, in the society or the tech, do you think this is set yay decades in the future, slight changes to postcode format regardless. And the recent depression we have had might not be as extreme as this fictional one, but we can still feel it – and a lot of the politics of the situation relies on us having that edge to our collective memory.

And you know what else is not relied on when it might be? The celebrity name of Simon Mayo. OK, he might not be a household name in some quarters, but to others he means a lot. The fact he has had a successful YA action trilogy under his belt before this still does not prepare one. This is incredibly dense, much more intricate – yet ever readable. But there is a distinct sense of this being a tale that he wanted to tell, not sell – and the difference there is huge. However he came up with the scenario of the teenaged girl – YA feisty, with tattoos and punky hair, able to make use of her being mixed-race, and starting the book at least with the ability to leave her prison on errands of vengeance – in such a rarefied world, he has put every effort into making it work. The plot isn't easy to summarise, which is why I went for defining the more substantial thing – the very mise en scene in which it's set. All I will say, in closing this paragraph, is that a certain German phrase has leaked over from his Friday afternoon cinema discussion show on British radio, and done so very effectively.

But here's the thing. This is not without flaws (I'm doing it again – quoting his show. I'll stop now). Breaking this down into four manageable chunks as I was I found the first magical in setting up the dark near-future story, bringing us great characters, but the second, where a lot of action happens in the megajail was very poor indeed. It wasn't the kind of story I wanted, and even though it seemed to be doing what other series have taken too many books to do, it didn't sit well with me. I was inherently aware of Mayo having to watch the Hunger Games and other similar film series for a living.

After that things got more back on track, and I did find long sections I could enjoy. Seeing this as a mental film as I was intended, it seemed to lose visual coherence by doing this and that, and going there, but it certainly had the narrative drive you'd want. At the same time it had a certain clunkiness. There's an item that turns out to be a huge Macguffin, and the writing seems to ignore it at key times – in use one second, and forgotten about the next when we need to know it's at least been pocketed. But as for the actual scenario that put all this story on to the page, this will certainly remain a long-remembered book.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Hunt by Paul Bird is close in theme and scope.

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