Headline, h/b £12.99, 416pp, Kindle, £4.35
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the YA label. My concern is that it might put off as many readers as it attracts; indeed, I know several people who wouldn’t read a book that was marketed as such. This is a shame, because this is an excellent book, regardless of the age group it’s aimed at.
What makes it YA? Well, apart from the fact that the leading protagonists are two teenage, albeit not human girls, it seems to come down to two things – there’s no explicit sex as such and no profanity. That describes an awful lot of books in my collection that were not marketed specifically to late teens/early twenties.
What it doesn’t do is write down to its proposed younger readership. It pulls no punches regarding the complexity of the politics, or the reality of the violence that surrounds the protagonists.
The publisher states that it’ll be suitable for fans of ‘The 5th Wave’. I had to look that up, as I knew little about it. Personally, if pushed to describe it in terms of other works, I’d be tempted to call it a cross between the TV shows, ‘Defiance’, ‘V’ and ‘Game of Thrones’. It’s not really that much like any of them, but it does have elements in common. Like ‘Defiance’, it has tension between humans and alien races on Earth, and includes a young alien female amongst the main characters. Like ‘V’ it’s based around an alien occupation of Earth, although, in my opinion, it’s considerably better than either version of that show. ‘Game of Thrones’ is fantasy, rather than science fiction, but there are similarities in the complexity of the background. There are no simple goodies versus baddies here. The Illyri have genuinely improved the lives of most humans since their arrival on Earth. They’re still an occupying force, however, and humans don’t like to be controlled. So, naturally, there’s a resistance movement. There are also huge tensions between the different factions of the occupying force. In an interesting turnabout, the military are the good, reasonable ones. It’s the Diplomatic Corps who are akin to Nazis.
The Illyri are actually a lot like us, as is common with many alien races in science fiction since the genre was created. In this case, the authors make that fact a major plot point of the series. Humans are the first really sophisticated, advanced race they’ve come across and as such, they see Earth as a potential problem for the Illyri empire in the future. The invasion and occupation is seen as the best method of nipping this problem in the bud.
Sixteen year old Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. She’s also the daughter of the man who is ostensibly in charge of the occupying forces. She’s as rebellious as any typical human teenager, so she defies the rules and walks among the people of Edinburgh, despite the risks.
There are terrorist attacks. The resistance are blamed, but who was really responsible? What are the mysterious Sisterhood, who have their hooks into the Corps? Who is ‘The Green Man’ – the leader of the resistance in Edinburgh, who very few people have ever actually seen? There are many, many more questions raised in this first of what promises to be a truly engrossing epic series.
The writing is excellent, as I would expect from Connolly, whose Charlie Parker books are huge favourites of mine. It’s hard to tell who wrote what in this collaboration, especially since I have no other works by Jennifer Ridyard to go on. If forced to guess, I would say it’s likely that the young female protagonists are one of her contributions. I’m pretty certain that the extreme nastiness known as ‘The Sarith Entities’ is pure Connolly. It’s the little details, such as the young Illyri girls enjoying a cup of tea and a hobnob with the young resistance lads, and the fact that the Illyri appreciate Earth art and culture, that make this book such a delight to read.
Don’t be put off by the YA designation. If you like epic science fiction adventure, you may well like this – I did.