Hello! I’m back, & this time I’m reviewing the upcoming Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for JUNE, Malorie Blackman’s new novel Noble Conflict! It’ll be in all Waterstones stores come Saturday the 1st of June, for those who are interested. And you SHOULD BE INTERESTED.
Noble Conflict is set in a Dystopian world, after a faction known as the Crusaders used nuclear weapons to try & force tectonic shifts to claim new land, leaving a huge portion as an arid, volcanic desert appropriately named The Badlands. The story focuses on the peaceful Utopian society of the Alliance, which borders on the Badlands, & is frequently under attack from the Crusader’s elite terrorist organisation, known as the Insurgents. The Alliance is protected by an army known as the Guardians, who use non-lethal stun rifles & combat tactics to defend their peaceful way of life, & the main protagonist is a new recruit in the Guardians, Kaspar Wilding, the son of two highly decorated deceased Guardians. He finds however, that the “Us & Them” mentality he’s been taught his whole life, in relation to the Insurgency isn’t as black & white as it seems. After a chance encounter in the desert with an Insurgent ninja girl called Rhea leaves him with a strange mix of memories that contradict the stories of the fall of the Crusaders he’s always known, he recruits the help of computer genius Mac to try & piece together a lost history & to find what would drive a people to the atrocious terrorist acts he’s seen, & what it is the Alliance’s High Council have kept back from the world about the Insurgents…
Malorie Blackman is no stranger to tense, social issues, explored through a Dystopian narrative; her Noughts & Crosses series is one of the finest examinations of race & segregation available for teens. I strongly urge you to read it! With Noble Conflict though, she’s starting to examine slightly less obvious themes, with a great deal of subtext. I think the main theme is clear, the idea that we should always have a sense of curiosity, & we should always be willing to question established ideas, as many Utopian/Dystopian novels do. However, underneath that is an idea that is actually evident in the title, the idea that sometimes, as ugly as violence can be, for the right cause we are drawn to fight. She paints a society where violence is necessary, but considered abhorrent, until we get a better understanding of the motives behind the Insurgents. Through Kaspar, we start to see that some things are worth fighting for, & nothing is more important than the truth. This novel idolises the power of the Truth to set people free, & shows how much damage lies ultimately cause, even those for the greater good.
Characters then! Our main lead Kaspar is a good “Luke Skywalker”ish character, taken from his Uncle’s farm to fight for his beliefs, just like his parents before him. He started out a little on the bland side for me, but as his journey progresses, he starts to question the Alliance’s authority, & with the help of Rhea’s memories, he becomes a much more rounded & interesting character. His fellow Guardian’s are a great Military style array, with a refreshing mix of male & female characters, both hardened combat veterans. My personal favourite character was the Computer Expert Mackenzie though (A girl with bright, dyed hair who works in a library? I’m predictable, I know), but she’s funny, bubbly, & importantly, she’s a fresh perspective from all the military orientated characters. She adds an element of emotion & non-gung-ho attitude to Kaspar’s investigation. The one character I felt was sadly underplayed was Rhea though. We see her mostly through Kaspar’s inherited memories, & through her sleek, stealthy action sequences. I’d’ve liked to have had more dialogue with her, but I suppose to keep her mysterious, I can understand why she’s presenting through memories & actions. That’s who her character is, decisive, acting on memories to solidify a future.
The book contains some brilliant set pieces that really gripped me, & kept me open mouthed staring at the page. Kaspar’s ordeal in the desert early on is brilliantly paced, & really serves as a major character shift for him, but it’s the later sections at Loring school & in the Hospital (You’ll know them when you read them) that show how he processes horrific, traumatic events that really develop the character as major turning points, as well as creating a deep sense of tragedy & unease in the Alliance world, & in us as the reader. We start to question along with Kaspar & Mac how there can be shades of grey in a world where the Insurgents are willing to kill & torture seemingly at random, just for fun.
One final thing that I enjoyed about the book was a romantic story that took a back seat. With all the atrocities & conspiracy being masterfully teased & dropped in our laps, it’s understandable that the character’s developing romance is *not* the most important thing to either of them. That’s a refreshing change in YA/Teen fiction, as I’m sure I’ve moaned before. It makes the characters much less two-dimensional & makes their actions much more realistic, given the circumstances. Or maybe that’s just me.
Noble Conflict might not have the same impact as Noughts & Crosses, but it’s a breath of fresh air from a very talented writer of unique, thought-provoking Teen Fiction. As I’ve already said, the book will hit shelves as Waterstones’ Book of the Month on Saturday, with an exclusive edition also available, SIGNED by Malorie herself! Get yourself into a big W this weekend!
Thanks for reading!
P.S. The book does contain some strong language, & a few scenes of minor gore.