The Power by Naomi Alderman

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Published by Penguin, April 2017, 340 pages, £3.99

5 stars

This book blew me away. A world in which young women develop electric powers to zap and kill. It was a truly thunderous read which left me feeling shocked and singed. The remnants of the story are still crackling in my thoughts, so much that I’m not sure how to convey all of them in this review.

The book follows 4 main POVs: Margot, an American mayor who acquires the power from her daughter and fast tracks her way to the White House. Alison, who runs away from an abusive foster system to a convent where she forms a new religion. Roxy, a British teen who is the daughter of a mobster and takes over his business. And Tunde, a young Nigerian man who is one of the first to record the phenomenon on his phone and quickly becomes a revered journalist, travelling everywhere to document the growth of the power.

I found this eclectic mix of characters very engaging, although at times some were more interesting than others. As the power awoke in more girls and gained momentum we see a very fascinating shift in society, cleverly traced by the author. Some are dramatic but some are subtle changes that overthrow years of social conditioning. Rape on men grew, men’s rights activists begin bombing women’s health centres and when a young man is found dead it is usually assumed a woman is behind it.

I enjoyed how a male news anchor was replaced by a young handsome man, leaving the female to assume the distinguished role. I also found it interesting when girl’s blamed boys for ‘secretly liking’ the zap (a reversal of the ‘asking for it’ culture) and how girls would ridicule others who can’t or won’t use the power, calling them names that suggest weakness.

I had heard a lot of buzz about this novel, before it won the ‘Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction’ ( the kind of prize that is ironically subverted in the book’s message- there are no ‘Men’s prizes’ after all…). But I was worried it would be too scary or violent and I wasn’t wrong. This book contains scenes of graphic rape and killing. However, at that point I was too far invested into the story, so it didn’t feel jarring or unnecessary, just a sense of grim acceptance.

I was hooked on the plot which follows the power as it snows balls into what feels like a final showdown- wars, primal cults, weapons of mass destruction, drugs, new laws… Nothing really out of the ordinary or otherworldly if you think about it. Alderman writes in an article about this book that: ”Nothing happens in this book that hasn’t happened to a woman”, which is true. It’s not a dystopia, but a reversed image of our own reality. It’s only truly disturbing in the way it exposes us, not just through division of gender but race and other forms of inequality.

And yes, I would really love to have the power.

#Passionthepower

Thank you Penguin for my review copy xxx

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Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

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Published by Penguin, April 21st 2016, 496 pages, £5.99

3.5 Stars

Ever since I read a positive review in Guardian Books a few months ago, I had wanted to get my hands on a copy.  A teen spin on Othello set in space really it hit the right note. It had a tall order, so I was curious to see if it lived up to the challenge.

Unfortunately, the beginning almost put me off. Why oh why does the Asian friend have to be a plant geek?? And the dated slang made me cringe- ‘fit’, ‘out of order’. To the non-Brits, I had heard these words when I was in high-school, ten years ago. And the universal post-apocalyptic greeting was ‘Nihao’ which I found unoriginal and slightly offensive. I know it was meant to be profound but we get it the Chinese might be taking over... But thankfully there wasn’t too much of this and the cliche character didn’t feature very often, so I was able to ignore him. I concentrated on the rest of the book which I turned out to be quite thrilling and thought-provoking.

Olivia and her twin brother Aidan have lost their family from a deadly virus and are travelling alone back to Earth. They spot some people in a zone controlled by the Mazon, a cruel and violent species who are determined to destroy anything foreign, especially humans. This is the first time Olivia has had any contact with other people for three lonely years. She is determined to help them, despite Aidan’s caution. But when they join her ship, things get uncontrollably sticky. For one thing they were running away from Earth and ‘The Authority’ which is its supreme ruler and refuse to explain anything. This suggests that there all may not be as it seems for the home Olivia is returning to. Despite Olivia’s help, a few members fail to recognise her as captain because of her being a teenage girl. As they are still within Mazon territory, they have to work together until the threat passes. But throughout the journey, members mysteriously die. Blackman kept me guessing the whole time who the murderer was. I love a good whodunnit.

Olivia instantly develops a bond with Nathan, the son of their leader. Their relationship may have happened a little fast, but I found it convincing and warming. I was quite surprised at how steamy the scenes were, so it is only suited for older teens and above. Aidan becomes naturally jealous of them, but there is something odd about him as well- something else I wanted to get to the bottom of. I really admired Olivia’s character. She is someone who places integrity as a priority, reacts quickly to disaster and is strong in resisting discrimination. Nathan is more of a standard love interest who is handsome, athletic and passionate.

There are many compelling conflicts all leading to the issue of prejudice and equality: the Mazon and their racial hatred, the Authority and its class system, the ageism and sexism towards Olivia. Blackman cleverly plots these topics into a slightly cheesy teen romance, transforming it into a novel essentially about what it means to be human.

This worked as a stand alone novel, but I really hope there is a sequel.