I’m just going to be upfront and admit it: I’m a total newbie when it comes to dystopian YA fiction. Fans of the genre are right now wondering what the heck I’ve been doing with my reading hours up until now.
Well, we’ve all got to start somewhere, and I’d say being handed Jane Higgins’ novel Havoc was a pretty good introduction to the rough and tumble of worlds tending towards irreversible oblivion.
I didn’t realise it at first (d’oh, newbie alarm sounding again!) but Havoc is actually Book 2 in the Southside Novels series. Book 1, The Bridge, won the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing in 2010 so it comes from strong pedigree.
Havoc picks up where The Bridge left off. It’s 2199 and The City remains divided. There might be a ceasefire between the two warring sides (Cityside and Southside), but it’s one that’s barely holding. Then Cityside blows up one of the bridges leaving Southsiders dead and conflict instantly re-ignited. In the bomb’s aftermath, teenagers Nik and Lanya are drawn into the complex web of power, fear and betrayal that’s fueling The City’s fractured war.
I really enjoyed stepping into this vivid futuristic world. In the hands of Nik, who is the only son of the chief spy for Southside’s Brekens, it felt like I was on a crazy, adrenalin pumping adventure full of wrong turns and intrigue…with a few perfectly timed lucky-breaks. Nik’s split loyalties between his new home on Southside and his past in Cityside injects the story with a great dynamic. I was right with this character as he tried to navigate his way around old relationships while following his new sense of purpose as something of a champion for the Breken cause.
The character of Lanya (and the chemistry between her and Nik) is another of the book’s strengths. Lanya is a smart, feisty heroine for readers to invest in. Nik and Lanya’s race to halt the widespread release of Cityside’s biological warfare is pacey and compelling.
There were times when I found the book’s political aspects a little confusing (so many factions with differing motivations) but had I read The Bridge first I’m sure this wouldn’t have been an issue.
Being the dystopian newbie that I am, upon finishing the book I was keen to know what committed readers of the genre had thought of it. As far as I can tell it’s getting a big wrap for not following ‘the usual tropes’ and many praise it for being an ‘intelligent’ read.
My assessment would be that this is a well-paced adventure into a world cleverly imagined.