(Andersen Press, 2022)
Review by John Siddique
Welcome to Peter Kalu’s nightmare vision of a plausible near-present Britain. A land where people of the global majority are placed in prison camps with SIM chips roughly planted in their brains to overwrite their sense of self and make them comply fully with the white supremacist ideology of the government. It’s the ‘almost now’, and with this story we can see a possible natural unfolding of the journey being undertaken by our politicians and their buyers in the here and now. As we enter this world, we meet our protagonists, Dune and Axel (Ax), both chipped and struggling to survive the internment camp and the mind-wiping surveillance drones. They are lovers, each working to hold on to their individual and relational selves in a greyscale world of control, lynching and forced compliance. Thankfully, unlike in real-life Britain, there is a direct action-based resistance movement operating against white supremacy. On meeting the guardians of the underground, they are each drawn deeper in their different ways into the fight to save not just each other but the country itself.
This is Kalu’s most direct writing to date. For a writer who loves circumnavigation and complexity, the telling here is clear and strong. It is writing that leans into the actualities of our times, for this is pretty much how we treat seekers of asylum and refugees right now – if the chips and drones were ready, they’d be in use. For we already live in a world without the right to protest, of forced compliance, lockdown mentality and division. Relief comes in this novel through a series of flashbacks to when Ax, Dune, and Ax’s mother were part of a resistance that tried to head these times off. The interplay between memory and the present gives us not just backstory but a wider idea of how this world has come about. We see the rise of a QAnon-like apocalyptic end -of-time cult in the US, the merging of US and UK supremacist politics, and the backstabbing ‘house negro’ attitudes of certain people of colour trying to save their own skins by taking part in the division and subjugation of others. All very easy to see in our world today. This is Kalu’s real strength – he has the eyes to look and the guts to write the words into a Young Adult novel, perhaps in the hope that we might not arrive at such a present. The book is a necessary messenger as we currently walk with eyes closed into the shadows that lead to these coming horrors of a two-tier system that we as yet generally refuse to recognise.
There is not much light in this novel, so it makes for an intense read. I hope this book finds the readers who need it. For a global majority person in the UK, I can already feel this stuff under the surface of our daily realities; many of us will recognise what is here, in our blood and bones. Peter Kalu doesn’t look away, and he is asking quite clearly if we will join the resistance.
Highly recommended for any thinking, feeling person with a heartbeat in our current times.