Blackout, by Kit Mallory
OK, so, full confession. The author of Blackout, Kit, is a close friend of mine. We met at a writer's convention about four years ago, when The Fairy's Tale had just been self-published. At the time, I was speaking with a literary agent who was telling me in no uncertain terms that adults would not read a story about fairies or magical creatures.
Kit approached me afterwards and told me what utter bunkham she thought that was.
Book conversation ensued, during which Kit told me about the novel she was currently working on, which was (spoilers!) Blackout. I have since spent pretty much every conversation we've had begging her to release her novel, because it is that good.
And now... finally!.... here we are!
Blackout has been shortlisted for the 2016 Mslexia Children's Novel Competition and longlisted for the 2016 Bath Children's Novel Award. Set in the not-too-distant future, the United Kingdom is literally divided. An energy crisis has prompted the wealthy Southern counties, under the (mis)management of the incredibly sinister Board, to erect a wall across the Midlands, cutting off the Northern counties. As a result, anyone caught on the northern side of the wall is without electricity. No hospitals. No computers. No infrastructure. No hope.
The story follows three main protagonists, Skyler, Angel and Mackenzie. Skyler is a Northerner who managed to make it over the wall. However, being from the north means that she has no status in the south, and also means that she is separated from her family. Through a series of desperate decisions, she ends up working for an (incredibly scary) criminal boss as a computer hacker. Skyler has long given up hope of ever having a life for herself. Living in fear, she does what she can to survive the cruelty and psychological power games of her employer/captor. Until, one day, a thief comes to her with a USB drive he has stolen from the Board, asking her to hack it. When she does, Skyler discovers a secret so terrible she has no choice but to finally act...
Blackout is fast-paced, exciting, and very dystopian. There are moments that are genuinely harrowing, and the world that Skyler and Mackenzie inhabit is beautifully and subtly drawn. At no moment did I feel I was facing death-by-exposition, a deft trick on behalf of Kit Mallory's world building. However, this is first and foremost a character-driven story, with Skyler, Angel and Mackenzie eliciting my sympathy and, at times, my ire. They all feel extraordinary real, to the point where I was discussing their lives and motivations as if they were real people! And while this is unarguably Skyler's story, the two other main protagonists, Mackenzie and Angel, are richly drawn and never given over to cliche. No one is perfect in this world, but their imperfections are meaningful and a natural result of their experiences. There are also moments of warmth and, dare I say it, camaraderie in this dark world, and each one feels well-earned and natural.
Blackout draws on themes of PTSD and mental health, not at any point shying away from the effects that living in constant fear has on the protagonists. Nothing is belaboured - Skyler, Mackenzie and Angel's various coping mechanisms are not written as titillation or sideshow. These are real people, Mallory insists, who are dealing with real issues, and she challenges the reader to understand that against such a dramatic backdrop, real lives are occurring. For me, this is one of the factors that makes this such a fantastic read. For all the YA dystopia and the thick and fast action that is synonymous with the genre, Blackout does not pull its punches when it comes to examining the mental and physical results of living in such a world. A fantastic read - and I'm delighted to finally see it in print and be able to recommend it!
Blackout is available now as paperback and e-book on Amazon. E-books are available on Koboand other digital stores. You can read more about it on Goodreads. Kit Mallory is on Twitter, @kitkatus, and has a blog.