Happy Christmas from Taller Books! If you’re celebrating today, here’s hoping that all those parcels under the tree are filled with wonderful books: gorgeous hardbacks, eReaders, and maybe the end of that series you’ve been waiting for …
Rachel is taking over the blog today, to talk about the politics behind the Battle Ground series. Click through to the comments and let us know what you think!
Step by Step
Anyone who follows me here or on social media will be aware that I have spent the last two years writing novels. Don’t worry – this isn’t advertorial. There are links to the Battle Ground series at the end if you’re interested, but this isn’t about selling books.
This is about a story that I hoped would become a
self-avoiding prophecy. A five-book adventure that I hoped would be irrelevant
long before today.
A story that feels more real, and more possible, with every
news story and Twitter rant and argument round the dinner table.
So what’s the point of this blog post?
I want to explain what the books are really about. Not the
blurb on the back. Not the Action and Adventure that Amazon is promoting. Not
even the teenage characters who have become my ambassadors to other people’s
I want to write about the political landscape in my
near-future, UK-based story, and I want to sound an alarm.
A Post-Brexit Dystopia
Brexit is the excuse for what happens in
the books. I tell you that up front, on the cover. The Battle Ground series is set in a dystopian near-future UK, after
Brexit and Scottish independence.
But Brexit is not the point. It’s not the
end of the story – it happens years before the start of Book One. The point is
what happens next, and what happened earlier to lay the foundations for my
And it is a dystopia. My near-future UK is
under Martial Law. The army is in charge. Racism is normal. Islamophobia is
normal. Parliament has been suspended.
When I started writing in November 2017, I
was inspired by the Brexit Referendum. Campaigns on both sides dominated by
lies, guesswork, illegal spending, and a lazy assumption that it was all a
game. That there was no way the Leave Campaign would win. I could see the divisions
in the country, and the sudden permission to make racist statements without
apology or consequence. I could see the complexity of the process ahead of us –
campaigning to remain, or untangling ourselves from the EU. I could see the
gaping hole where calm, measured policies should be, on issues as diverse as
the Irish border, visa-free travel, and the rights of EU citizens in the UK –
and UK citizens in the EU.
I could see us lining up to throw years of
peace, co-operation, and friendship onto a bonfire of empty promises: sovereignty,
independence, blue passports. Control of our own borders.
I could hear the dog-whistle call to anyone
who felt pushed out or inconvenienced by immigration. To anyone who needed a
scapegoat for the lack of jobs, or perceived red tape, or the decline of the
high street. Who believed the promise of more money for the NHS.
And it frightened me.
I saw the papers, tribal as always in the
UK, digging in and promoting one side of the debate. Of course leaving the EU
would be good for us. Who wants to be associated with those unelected bureaucrats
and their rules about bendy bananas?
No mention of the MEPs we elect. No assessment
of the longest period of peace between EU members for more than a millennium.
No debunking of the bendy banana myth, or the lie on the side of the bus.
And then I thought about the Patriot Act in
the USA. Legislation brought in after the 9/11 attacks to make it easier for
the government to intercept and prevent terrorist activity.
Legislation that traded long-held freedoms
for a promise of safety. That enabled the government to more easily monitor the
phones and emails of private citizens. That allowed the indefinite detention of
immigrants. That handed power to unaccountable government agencies.
How easy would it be to slide into
totalitarianism, step by tiny step?
That’s the backdrop. That’s the theme and
the message of the Battle Ground series.
Step by step, without noticing, how easy
would it be to walk into dystopia with the best of intentions?
And to underline this theme, there’s the
parallel journey of my protagonist and antagonist. Two strong young women,
navigating a world without mobile phones or civilian internet. A world where
news is controlled by the military government, and terrorists are executed live
on TV. A world where civil unrest and terrorism pushes the army to conscript
sixteen-year-olds to patrol the streets, to make people feel safe again. A
world where racist attacks force British citizens to leave, and seek asylum
For both characters, their stories develop
step by step – one acting for the government, and one supporting the resistance.
In the later books, they find themselves committing acts they would never have considered
at the start of the series. They both develop their bravery and strength, step
by tiny step. And they both lose themselves, step by tiny step.
They lose their identities – to conscription,
to rebellion, to abuse and to corruption. They lose friends and classmates to
the quiet war between the government and the people fighting back. They lose
control over their lives and their decisions. By the end of the series, they’ve
both done things they can’t justify in the name of the causes they’ve been
They don’t transform all at once in some
blinding moment of revelation. They get there step by tiny step, one action at
a time. One goal at a time. One choice at a time.
It’s easy to walk off a cliff if you get
used to heading in that direction. If every step you take can be justified and
supported. One step, then the next – and before long you’re falling.
It will be easy to walk into dystopia. Ask
any EU citizen living in the UK, and you’ll find that we’re half way there
already. We’ve rejected our close relationship with our national neighbours, because
we think it will make us stronger. We’re rejecting our neighbours – the people
who keep our NHS and social care services running – because we don’t like to be
reminded that we’re not the imperial power we used to be. We don’t like to hear
other languages spoken on our streets. We don’t like Germany telling us what to
(Is that right? Is that what we’re leaving
for? Argue with me. Tell me it’s not like this.)
So, step by tiny step, we’re walking
towards irrelevance. We’re walking towards a health service run for the profit
of American insurance companies. We’re walking towards increased immigration
from around the world, and the extreme racism that will provoke. Towards a
shrinking economy. Towards having to meet EU standards for exported goods
without having a place at the table to influence how those standards are
So that’s what my books are about. Blindly walking
away from peace, security, and established trade partnerships towards – what? I
hope we’re not heading for the world of the Battle Ground series. I hope we’re
not heading for totalitarianism and isolationism and acceptable racism and civil
But step by step, that’s where we could end
I want my books to be a self-avoiding
prophecy. I want my readers to see what I’m pointing out, and help to change the
direction we’re walking in.
Since I finished writing the series, France
has announced the reinstatement of National Service for teenagers. Sudan cut
off internet and mobile phone access for civilians, to control anti-government
protestors. Iran and Saudi Arabia already stage public executions. Nothing in
the books feels far-fetched any more.
This is what I’m asking my readers to
resist. Electing a pro-Brexit Conservative government with a landslide majority
might be a single step in the process. Leaving the EU might be the next. Small
steps, but every one takes us closer to isolation. To selling off our NHS. To
the break-up of the United Kingdom. To economic hardship. To an end to the
peace and prosperity of the European Project.
We can turn back from the cliff at any
time. It gets harder and harder as we approach the edge, but we can change where
It’s up to us, and our votes and decisions.
Step by tiny step.
The Battle Ground Series
Books One to Four of the Battle Ground series are available from Amazon. You’ll find them on my Amazon Author Page. The final book in the series will be published on January 9th, and there’s a free prequel novella at freebook.tallerbooks.com.
consider the Battle Ground series as gifts for readers aged 13-103, or for
discussion at your Book Club. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information, or to arrange an author visit for your Book Club or school.
Title: The New World / The Wide, Wide Sea / Snowscape (Chaos Walking series) Author: Patrick Ness Edition: Kindle Rating: 4/5 – 5/5
Three short stories, designed to be read alongside the Chaos Walking books. They all contain spoilers, so it is really hard to review them properly, but each one adds an extra dimension to the Chaos Walking trilogy.
The New World gives us Viola’s take on the opening chapters of The Knife of Never Letting Go. It should be read after the novel to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve finished the novel, you’ll know what happens. Experiencing the events through Viola’s eyes is vivid and heartbreaking, but it gives the reader a valuable and emotional insight into her backstory. 5/5.
The Wide, Wide Sea is a story of forbidden love, set alongside the events of The Ask and the Answer. It’s another heartbreaking story, this time touching on injustice, prejudice, and the cost of fighting for what you believe in. 4/5.
Snowscape is set after the end of Monsters of Men, and the spoilers are everywhere! Definitely save this story until you’ve finished the trilogy. It clears up some unfinished business from the end of the final book, but also explores a sinister side of the New World that isn’t addressed in the novels. 5/5.
All three stories offer neat, well-crafted insights into the world and the characters of the Chaos Walking books, and all three are worth reading – just don’t jump in until you’ve read the associated novels, as the spoilers are brutal.
Have you read the Chaos Walking short stories? What did you think of the glimpses into the New World? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!
Title: The Queen of Nothing Author: Holly Black Edition: Hardback Rating: 5/5
I really don’t know what to say about this book! I’d been waiting for the resolution to the particularly painful cliffhanger since I read The Wicked King in January, and I was thrilled when the publishers decided to launch The Queen of Nothing ahead of schedule.
To recap, the series follows Jude – a mortal girl, brought up in Faerie. She fears for her life, her future, and her family, surrounded and threatened by the magic-wielding Folk of the Air. Madoc, the head of her household, teaches her that power is the only thing that will save her.
Jude’s obsession with power leads to a fascination with the Prince who leads the bullies – and to his fascination with her, a mortal who dares to fight back. The Cruel Prince sees this fascination take them both into danger, and in The Wicked King both the danger and the fascination expand.
I don’t want to spoil the series for anyone who has yet to read it, so there’s a lot I can’t say. I can say that The Queen of Nothing is a less dark book than both its prequels, and that the story wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. But the more I think about it, the more I realise how clever the story is, and how neatly the ending ties back to the beginning of the series. Both Jude and Cardan feel much more grown up in the final book, and both characters are starting to learn the lessons of their earlier experiences, mistakes, and failures.
And Jude remains an absolutely wonderful character. She is brought into Faerie at the beginning of The Cruel Prince, and has to fight for dignity, respect, and survival from the start. She is brave, strong, and determined, and willing to do whatever it takes to protect herself and her family. I loved reading her story, and I think these books are going to be my go-to reading when I need to feel brave and undefeated.
Extremely highly recommended.
Have you read the Folk of the Air trilogy? What did you think of the final instalment? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!