I’m a massive fan of Michael Grant’s GONE books. Some of my favourite teen fiction going at the moment in fact, it’s tense, fast-paced, exciting and boasts a greatly textured and rich back story, which I hope comes to a superb resolution in LIGHT (book 6). Tragically, I’ve got one heck of a wait before I get to find out, given that the finale isn’t due until September 2013. So, with that in mind, I thought it high time I checked out Michael’s new series, the techno-thriller BZRK, which is just out in Paperback, at all Waterstones stores. And other bookshops too, I suppose.
BZRK is set in a world at war. A secret war, one you don’t hear about on the news, one that could be raging inside of you right now. This is the world in which nano-technology is key, and there are two sides to every war. On one side is Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins who fight to use nano-technology to obliterate war, poverty, famine and suffering, and BZRK, who oppose them. Why would such an idea be opposed though? Because the Armstrong twins want to eradicate Free Will to put an end to suffering, and we all know that just won’t do. The book follows the two newest recruits to BZRK’s forces, two teens forced to adopt new codenames to avenge their families and fight to keep humanity free. The only problem with this war is, if you die in the nano-world, you lose your mind in the macro-world. It’s victory or madness.
BZRK is, if it’s at all possible, even faster-paced than the GONE books. They’re savagely aggressive in their depiction of violence and descriptions of gore. Throw in a handful of strong language, and these are not books for younger readers! These are science-fiction thrillers in a much more modern setting than we’ve encountered in Young Adult fiction for a long long time. This is a James Bond thriller for the Matrix generation, delving into very weighty issues such as free-will, control and madness, but all the while keeping the action coming, and never sparing on the violence. All the character’s are very well set-up, and backgrounds help make no-one seem “good” or “evil”, but simply idealists fighting for causes which they believe very strongly in. The Armstrong twins are a particularly tragic and complex characters, set on a route that they believe is the best way towards peace for mankind, which makes it difficult to hate them, but makes them very textured and deep antagonists. I’m looking forward to further character development of people like Bug-Man and Wilkes in following books, as both seem suitably troubled and twisted, and I’d really love to find out why.
One aspect I loved about the book was the threat of madness over death, which just seems like much more of a horrifying aspect, especially as BZRK focus on the idea of free-will, and insanity takes that away from them, but they risk it anyway, so strong is their conviction towards their cause. It really creates a sense of tension during any battle down in the nano, and as a reader of Grant, I know any character is fair game for a grizzly ending.
Finally, the science. I’m a big science nerd, and I love anything which tries to unite science with children’s literature. Michael Grant has clearly done some deep research on microbiology, and employs it brilliantly and subtly when describing events “Down in the Meat” as they call it. His similes and metaphors help make this grotesque micro-world really fully form in the readers head, and the clever use of macrophages and other microbial beasties make an alien world out of something that is actually inside us all the time. For that I say bravo! I would have loved to have seen an examination of quantum effects that only arise at particle sizes, so I suppose I’ll have to wait to see if BZRK get any smaller.
All in all, BZRK was fun, fast and brutal. Not, for me, a patch on the GONE books, but certainly worthy of being called an excellent and Sci-Fi Thriller, and I look forward to seeing the evolution of it as time goes by. Also, I’m really loving the stuff coming out of Egmont’s new teen imprint, Electric Monkey right now, it’s all great stuff so far, can’t wait to see what’s next! (Not at all a hint for proofs!)
’til next time Bat-fans!