Thursday, 10 July 2014
London, Hachette, 2013, 307p
I encountered Sarah Mussi last week at the SLA Conference in Manchester, where she discussed with a panel of writers the concept of the dystopian novel. It was an enlightening 'author meet' for two reasons: partly because it introduced me to some new YA novels; but mainly due to the exploration of the definition of dystopian fiction - how does it differ from science fiction?; does the ending need to leave the reader with hope?; how close to our contemporary reality are some of these dystopian worlds?
Siege has been sat on my To Read shelf at work for months - it is a big shelf, and I with brilliant new novels arriving every day, sometimes books sit there for rather too long. Finally, meeting Mussi prompted me to pick up this novel and explore what had intrigued me in the first place.
A group of teenagers, calling themselves the Eternal Knights, have taken the YOU OP 78 Academy hostage. Fighting for her life, Leah has taken refuge in the ceilings, but she knows she cannot survive up there for long. The school is on Lock Down - no one can get in or out - and the battery of her comm (phone) is running low, leaving any attempts to make contact with the world outside futile.
Siege is a gripping, dangerous novel, and Leah is a strong, independent protagonist. Even though a male counterpart is introduced, leaving potential for a romance, most of the novel consists of Leah alone, trying to survive and striving to save her peers.
Much of her battle comes from her guilt - she is scared her brother, Connor, might be involved, and wonders if she could have done more to prevent this. But as time goes on, Leah realises that there is more to this siege than the failed relationship between herself and her brother - there are bigger factors at play.
Sarah Mussi's dystopian world (if I can call it that) is not far from the world in which we live. Leah and the students at her school are considered to be a drain on society - they are rushed through their education and forced into Volunteer Programs, in the hope that they can give something back and reduce their detrimental impact upon the country's resources. There is no social mobility - the lives of the students at these academies are set in stone.
No wonder this siege has come about, Leah thinks. The youth are disillusioned and angry, so they take up weapons to fight for their rights. But it seems weird to Leah that these Eternal Knights are made up of some of the most stupid kids in school - kids who couldn't track down weapons or organise themselves this efficiently. So there must be some bigger power involved...