Londonia by Kate A. Hardy.
Tartarus Press, 399 pp, h/b, £35
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Yes, you’re reading that correctly. The price printed on the loose cover is £35. I image many of you would stop reading at this point, £35 is too much for a book, even if it’s a hardback with a built-in ribbon bookmark. The good news is you can get the Kindle version for 6 quid, although in my opinion ebooks should be less than a fiver.
Enough commerce, let’s talk about the story. It’s the year 2070, and the world as we know it no longer exists. There’s been a cataclysm of some kind, and London is now divided in two. There’s a walled central area where the rich elite live, and an outer area inhabited by the less well-off. A young woman awakes on a park bench with no memories of who she is or where she’s from. A label on her clothing reads ‘Hoxton’ which she takes as her name and wanders off to explore. Outer London is a dangerous place, fortunately she finds a horse and an empty church whose owner has just died. From here she sets about rebuilding her life, becoming a Finder, someone who finds mostly rare items for various customers. A fortune teller tells Hoxton something about her previous life, and she goes to central London to find out the truth for herself.
The plot, particularly the first half, is a bit of a slow burn. Hoxton meets various people, does some good trades and is generally successful, particularly after making a valuable contact in central London. I thought this part went on a bit too long, too many trades and too much fine detail. It does help build the world and set the scene, but it could have been a couple of chapters shorter and improved the pacing. The pace does pick up as it goes, especially after an encounter with a possessive individual in a position of power.
For some unexplained reason, the English language has become mixed with a type of slang French, for which there’s a glossary at the back of the book. Having to stop reading to look up what a character just said is annoying and breaks immersion for me, although I know some people will lap this stuff up. You get used to it after a while, but I could have done with less of it.
The two worlds of inner and outer London are well created if a little exaggerated. Both societies work, and the fact that some rich people think themselves elite and more worthy is a universal truth. It’s this aspect of the story that makes you think. As you read further you start to question whether this is a dystopia at all, and if those on the outside are actually better off.
You might think I didn’t enjoy this book from the above, but in fact I found it a good read. It’s certainly well written by a skilled storyteller, and what is a flaw to me will be a positive point to others. Once I’d got past the vague causal events and the faux French, I found myself just going with the flow, slow or not. I believed in the characters and their world events, I wanted them to succeed and to ultimately be happy. Any book that can drag you in that far has to be good.