I was sent a free copy of this book in return for an unbiased review
‘Silence. Darkness. My pulse, loud in my ears. We’re under attack’
Sixteen-year-old Bex Ellman has been drafted into an army she doesn’t support and a cause she doesn’t believe in. Her plan is to keep her head down, and keep herself and her friends safe – until she witnesses an atrocity she can’t ignore, and a government conspiracy that threatens lives all over the UK. With her loyalties challenged, Bex must decide who to fight for – and who to leave behind.
The Battle Ground series is set in a dystopian near-future UK, after Brexit and Scottish independence.
What I thought
The first thing to say about this book isnt a dystopian novel in the traditional sense, where the government have been in power for decades and everyone knows that they are evil, it doesn’t start in a world that has already fallen apart and is struggling to pick up the pieces. It’s still in the transitional period when people think the government is still going to give them back their rights once the terrorists are finished, most people still live lives that we would recognise as normal although they don’t have personal internet or any social media. As a reader on the outside you can see where it’s going and that it’s already at the point of no return, if it hasn’t already passed it. Its such a different way of looking at it and although we aren’t there as a society (yet) it’s uncomfortable because with the people currently in power you can see how it could lead to this point. It’s a post-brexit world where the terrorists are pro-Europe and Scotland saw what was happening and voted for independence before it was too late and the public lost the right to vote.
The characters are all kids, it’s one of the first things we know about Bex. So calling her and her fellows conscripted doesn’t seem right, a better term for it – and the term used by one of the staff who Bex gets friendly with – is kidnapped. She didn’t get a say in the matter, and went from caring about homework to caring about how her armour works and what being the face to the army means. Being conscripted is hard enough, being kidnapped and effectively trafficked onto the front line of a war is a whole different ball game. The government seems to justify the use of child soldiers (who are 16 at best) by saying they are all brave and willing volunteers who signed up and by putting them in uniform with guns the teenagers all look older anyway. No one likes the term child soldier and Bex justifies her position to herself by saying that she’s not actually fighting and is just a ‘barbie in dress up’ to reassure the public. Their training runs purposefully take them down one of the main A-roads where the public can see
Normally the army teaches you to work as a team, a lot of training is not just about making sure the various skills are instinct but also about making sure that you can trust your teammates to have your back. But not here, here the senior recruiters and trainers get angry if you work as a team and they are explicitly told to forget about the others and to only make sure the public are safe. It doesn’t matter if you leave a person behind as long as that person is in uniform and not a civilian. Bex at one point gets physically assaulted because she helped Saunders who had busted his ankle and was unable to walk let alone finish the run.
Saunders is a great character, where everyone else is able to get on with the role as well as possible, Saunders just doesn’t fit. He isn’t up to the physical tasks and busts his ankle early on in his training which means he can’t continue at the same rate as the others. In any other army it would see him invalid out and he’d have to join the next training group but here he just has physio when the rest are doing something he can’t. And he spent his evenings drawing rather than practicing and dangerously day dreaming instead of listening to some of the lectures. But he cares, not about the army but about people and his girlfriend.
The politics of this book doesn’t lie either side of the labour/conservative left/right debate. Its about perceived safety of the group vs the rights of the individual. No one in the UK has the right to a vote or to protest, the media is all owned by the government and the news is carefully filtered, journalists have been imprisoned for following certain stories about the terrorists or have ‘disappeared’. All of these changes happened slowly and with the consent of the public and the government had permission from the king to stay in power for as long as is needed to defeat the terrorists and make the country safe again. ‘Battle Ground‘ is an innately political book but because it is not about the normal political lines it causes everyone with their different views on Brexit and Europe to think about things. In fact the only thing in the book that hints at the current political climate in the UK is a line about the original rebels being pro-Europe, the PM being a woman and the new ‘Margaret Thatcher’ (which incidentally was out of date a day after it was published when Boris Johnson became the new PM and leader of the Conservative Party) and Scotland gaining independence because they didn’t like what they saw.
Why I read it
I was offered a copy for review for this blog tour but said yea because it sounded interesting. I’ve read a lot of dystopian rebel stories but none that are slightly pre-dystpia where you watch the government turn into a full dictatorship.
Plus I just like stories where it turns out the rebels are the good guys… or at least not entirely bad
I met the publishers at YALC this year and they were lovely, plus they recognised the name of my little blog – which is super cool.
I didn’t have any preconceptions when starting this book, in fact I had almost forgotten about it in the lead up to YALC and the NEWTS until I checked my diary to see what I had in the next couple of weeks. And although I would definitely not recommending doing that what it did mean was I’d forgotten the synopsis when I started it so I went in with completely fresh eyes. This book really forces you to challenge yourself and think about what you prioritise and what you would sacrifice, I’m not normally a fan of the present tense but I only noticed it here 1/3 of the way through which shows that the story and the pace definitely needs it.
Would I read again? Maybe. I’m looking forward to the 2nd book, reading the prequel (which I got at YALC) but I don’t know if I’d go back and read the first one again. The dates for the later books are fairly close together so I wouldn’t even need to read it to remind myself what happened
Am I glad I read it? Yes
Did I enjoy it? Yes
Would I recommend? Yes
Reading challenges 2019
Popsugar: Should be turned into a movie (actually I think this has real potential for a YA TV series so it’s a bit of a fudge); Published 2019; Two word title.
Rachel Churcher was born between the last manned moon landing, and the first orbital Space Shuttle mission. She remembers watching the launch of STS-1, and falling in love with space flight, at the age of five. She fell in love with science fiction shortly after that, and in her teens she discovered dystopian fiction. In an effort to find out what she wanted to do with her life, she collected degrees and other qualifications in Geography, Science Fiction Studies, Architectural Technology, Childminding, and Writing for Radio.
She has worked as an editor on national and in-house magazines; as an IT trainer; and as a freelance writer and artist. She has renovated several properties, and has plenty of horror stories to tell about dangerous electrics and nightmare plumbers. She enjoys reading, travelling, stargazing, and eating good food with good friends – but nothing makes her as happy as writing fiction.
Her first published short story appeared in an anthology in 2014, and the Battle Ground series is her first long-form work. Rachel lives in East Anglia, in a house with a large library and a conservatory full of house plants. She would love to live on Mars, but only if she’s allowed to bring her books.
Thanks again to Rachel for organising the blog tour, to the publishers for knowing the name of my blog when I saw them on Friday at YALC, and to the author for writing it.
Once again I wouldn’t recommend starting the book 4 days before the blog tour, especially when you know you will have next to no time to read it let alone write the review.
P.S This week you’ll have a minimum of 3 more blog posts… YALC round-up, July round up, and my NEWTS plan!