Friday, 24 October 2014

Breakdown by Sarah Mussi

It is 2084. Nuclear radiation has poisoned the country. Society has fallen apart. Starvation is rampant, and power shortages have resulted in piles of obsolete gadgetry. Necessity has driven those who've survived to complete self-reliance, if they have the means to do so. For Melissa and her Nan, survival is just about possible, so long as they can guard the tiny crop of potatoes in their back garden and find enough fuel to cook on - and as long as they are safely barricaded inside their home by curfew.

For after dark, feral dogs hunt, and violent gangs from the old Olympic Stadium (now a miserable ghetto) roam to loot and plunder. If they catch you, they are not merciful; so when Melissa falls into the hands of Careem's gang, her prospects look bleak. But Careem soon realises that she might just be more valuable alive, as a ransom victim. However, he hasn't reckoned with Melissa's resourcefulness. Soon part of his young gang are completely beguiled by Melissa and her story of a hidden valley in Scotland - a place that sounds like a comparative paradise, if they can get there. But apparently only Melissa knows the way, and only she can lead them there. But Melissa is hiding a secret. She has never been to Scotland in her life, let alone a mythically Elysian valley there. Can Melissa's stories keep her alive long enough to escape - or will they get her killed?

Set in a world where all the bees have disappeared and the food stock is running low, Melissa and her Nan are just about surviving in London. But then cornered by a pack of hungry dogs, her Nan sacrifices herself to keep Melissa safe but she still ends up in the hands of the Game City Gang, with a powerful and violent leader that realises Melissa is a valuable commodity to trade to the General. The world building was amazing, from the rundown London to the dwindling population and the every man for himself attitude. It was harsh and tough and you could not trust anyone, least of all a gang member who said he will trade you to a sadistic nutjob as a plaything. The whole thing made me a little sick; not only was the world dying, the remaining people were just making surviving worse. 

Melissa uses her Nan's advice to set about escaping. Hearing her voice to stay tough and don't let anyone in, Melissa sets about using her rescuer, Tarquin, and his little brother Lenny to help her run away, to a made-up safe place in Scotland. Lenny, only being 6, eats this up and wants to hear everything about it. Even before we really knew them, I could understand why they needed to believe in a place like the cottage; their life sucked. And as Melissa got to know them, she began to feel guilty to lying to them and they became her family.

The overall story was much more fast-paced and action driven than I expected it to be; very much a survival thriller where they have to outrun violent gangs, vicious dogs and the army. Of course they nearly don't make it, with plenty of obstacles that don't want them leaving, Careem being the main one. As they attempt to leave London, they are taken by the army and used to work on a farm. There, we learn much more about the corruption that is limiting the food going to the city or any other place that actually need it. Figures that even in a world where just growing vegetables is a minor miracle, someone is still trying to make money and power off them. 

Written in a colloquial bad-on-purpose slang, Melissa and the boys' stories drag you in and pull at your heartstrings. Even knowing she had to ditch them, Melissa came to care for them and vise versa. Their incredibly tough journey was an amazing story to read, a classic UK dystopia with stubborn and sweet characters that you just have to cheer for.

Published 2nd October 2014 by Hot Key Books. Thank you to the published for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

No comments:

Post a Comment