Thursday 13 February 2014

Young Adult Book Review – The Fearless – Emma Pass

Young Adult Book Review – The Fearless – Emma Pass

Recommended for – Young Adults/Adults

With huge thanks to Random House UK for the advanced copy

There are three books this year that I’m head over heels excited about. One of them is The Tournament by Matthew Reilly (it’s arrived in the library! Huzzah!) and one of them is Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas (book three of the Throne of Glass series). The third was The Fearless by Emma Pass, and I’ve had the absolute delight and privilege to get hold of a copy and read it a few months before it’s officially out. Bless those with the power to do such a thing, because it’s another absolute corker.

The Fearless revolves around the breakdown of society in the UK and the rest of the world, as soldiers injected with the Fearless serum, designed to eliminate fear and increase their strength and healing ability, become dependent on a weaponised strain. They turn into aggressive nutcases with super strength and silver eyes, determined to turn everyone else like them.

We begin our story with 10 year old Cass and her friend Sol at the time the first wave of invasion begins, with them fleeing to the Isle of Mann and a new colony called Hope, along with Sol’s father. Seven years later, the kidnapping of Cass’s younger brother Jori leads her to mainland Britain in an attempt to rescue him, where she’ll join with a young Scot, Myo, and his own group of survivors. That’s as far as I’ll go with the plot for fear of spoiling too much…

I love that we’ve got a strong YA writer using dystopian Britain as a backdrop, especially when it’s writing about local areas that I recognise. In this day and age, the plot is one that certainly touches on the realms of reality. Doubtless there are military experiments out there trying to do virtually the same thing as we speak (I’ve watched a lot of films and they’re all based in fact, right?). It’s a different type of dystopian feel to ACID, which is good, because it means there isn’t any re-treading of previous steps, and shows Emma’s breadth of writing ability. She’s got a damn fine imagination, and a damn fine way of making me skip back a few lines just to make sure I read her correctly, such are the OMG moments that regularly crop up.

There are three characters whose points of view we see from. I liked Cass. She’s a different type of heroine to Jenna from ACID, not so much of a ‘kick-ass’ type, though she’s making strides towards it by the end. She’s ten years old when the Fearless first invade, and she’s gone down the path of being a helper to others, particularly her younger brother, rather than the hardened soul that her friend Sol becomes. Sol has a much more tragic arc, clearly coping worse with everything that has happened to them than Cass, and the culmination of his story in The Fearless is an absolutely jaw-dropping moment. It’s absolutely shocking, showing the depths to which his mental state have plunged. He embraces the chance to seek revenge on others through harsh means, far from Cass’s on more peaceful views, and to see this from someone who was clearly a fun-loving ten year old is devastating. The other main character, Myo, is much more likeable, though you can tell he and his group are hiding a big secret early on, and that it’s going to cause ruptures with Cass later. The other supporting cast is full of interesting characters, from Cass’s younger brother Jori to the helpful nurse Nadine.

There’s tragedy right from the very beginning, the type of which needs to be present in a dystopian thriller to really hammer home just how terrible life has become. Some of these tragedies are revisited later on and are heart-breaking. Emma doesn’t pull any punches, and at times I feel as if she’s virtually scanning my brain for my greatest apocalyptic fears and writing them on paper just to see what my reaction will be. As mentioned above, the demise of one character towards the end is shocking, and shows just how deeply the madness of the situation these children have found themselves in has affected them.

There are plenty of moral issues to ponder. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much, but there are issues about whether to shield people from the truth, whether to keep dangerous loved ones around, whether it’s more humane to kill someone than strip them of their humanity...I like a book that gets me thinking a bit, in between all the action. And this really is a book filled with action. Right from the very beginning, the plot explodes around Cass and Sol, and it never feels like it really lets up, which is what makes it so compelling and unputdownable. Of course, they aren’t sprinting around running from Fearless the entire time; there’s plenty of character and plot building where the characters are sat around the lunch table etc., but it feels like the plot constantly moves at a frantic pace, yet remaining very easy to follow.

I have to give a shout out for the greatest re-naming of a ‘beloved’ shopping centre that has ever, and will ever, been written. For those of you familiar with Meadowhall in Sheffield, you won’t stop smiling as soon as you realise the joke. At least, I think that was the joke, right?! I always worry with these things that I’ve interpreted them wrongly!

When I find a book that I love like this, it’s very hard for me to find faults. I found a fairly generic bad guy in ACID, and here I suppose you could argue that some of the themes aren’t anything groundbreaking. When you learn the truth about Myo’s group, for example, I’d guessed it a while back. It’s not hard to guess which of the boys Cass is going to fall for, either. In that respect, you could say that it’s not re-writing the dystopian wheel. In all honesty, though, when it does all of these things so well and makes it so compelling, does any of that really matter? I’ve seen people slating Dan Brown’s Inferno, completely unfairly in my mind – yes, it’s basically just another Dan Brown novel, but you know what you’re getting with it, which is a fast paced adventure with plenty of twists that is a lot of fun to read. The Fearless is a really fun, exciting and compelling Young Adult dystopian thriller that makes me want to read it all in one go without stopping. What more could I ask for in that respect? Okay, one minor quibble – it has the extra bits between chapters that ACID had, such as maps and documents, but I want more! I’d have love to have had more news reports etc. showing what happened in the seven years between ten year old Cass and seventeen year old Cass, but then again once you’ve read the story you’ll realise why that might actually not have been possible, due to various plot points. I shouldn’t moan too much really, it seems like such a minor point.

Has The Fearless lived up to its billing as one of my three most anticipated books of the year? Damn right it has. As soon as it’s out in the library, I’ll be pushing it on people like I still am with ACID. It falls just short of a perfect score because it doesn’t quite sit on a level with ACID, which is the pinnacle of YA dystopian thrillers for me. It is, however, absolutely brilliant, and had it not been for a combination of parenting, work, losing my iPad and a part-time university degree, I could easily have finished it in glorious day of reading. I’ve not read a virus-esque dystopian thriller this good, ever.


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