Friday, 13 March 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 13th March 2020: "DustRoad" by Tom Huddleston (Nosy Crow)

We're beginning to wonder whether anyone else will get a look-in in our Chapter Book of the Week slot, as once again Nosy Crow prove that they have a steely glint in their eye for publishing some of the most scintillating middle grade / YA fiction on the planet.

"DustRoad" by Tom Huddleston is one of those books that we cleared the decks for, in fact the same thing happened with "FloodWorld" (Book one in Tom's fantastic post-apocalyptic climate crisis series) - and once again we were wrapped up in the dying world of Kara and Joe.

This time the action eventually sees the duo back on dry land, but still very much in the thick of things as opposing forces - The Five and The Mariners - begin to duke it out over their own visions for the planet's future.

As the action switches to a sun-baked version of the US, like all good dystopic fiction you instantly feel like you're in a world that feels like it's depicting our own future, maybe less than a decade away (unless of course there's a near-miraculous turnaround in the way people think).

Kara and Joe's quest continues as they once again evade Cortez's nefarious Mariners, finding dubious comradeship with a band of outlaws who are determined to make the ruins of planet earth their own.

Kara and Joe, and the villainous Captain Cortez are the sort of characters that stick in the mind long after you've polished off the last chapter - and without any hint of spoilers, leave you almost gnawing the book in half to find out what's going to happen next (cliffhanger much?)

Do they have a future? Are the battle lines as clear cut as good vs evil? What Tom depics so well here is that these are characters that feel believable. In fact they feel like ordinary everyday folk facing up to the reality of a world being dragged through irrevocable change, and dang, if there's ever a reason we're addicted to dystopian stories, it's to wonder (and worry) about how we ourselves would cope in Kara and Joe's well-worn shoes.

But ah, the other character in the book - the amazing sun-blasted ruined world, described in meticulous, mesmerising and horrifying detail - is the real star. There's a hideous beauty to the way Tom describes some of the more memorable locations in the story (again if you read the influences article, you'll recognise some of these). Again this is like a siren song to both of us, fans of "Urbex" (a movement to photograph and capture the atmosphere of long-abandoned or ruined places, that feels like something Tom has nodded to in several parts of the book where previous bustling examples of civilisation are reduced to skeletal rotting ruins).

We both loved this. C because, to her, this sort of thing is all new - moving swiftly on from the usual middle grade fare into books that are far more dark and gritty than other things she's previously read. Books that feed into her own interest in climate change and the youth resistance movement that has risen up to challenge our horribly unsustainable consumer-led lifestyles.

For me, it feels like Tom Huddleston deserves to join the ranks of hallowed authors I loved as a kid and still love re-reading as an adult. Authors like John Christopher and John Wyndham, Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg and even modern dystopia masters like Ben H. Winters and Margaret Atwood.

I'm gushing, of course I am. This is a bloomin' fantastic book, tinged with a dark hearted view of a possible (some might say 'inevitable') future, but with moments that offer a tiny silver-hued glimmer of hope that humanity will somehow prevail.

Tom very kindly wrote about some of the influences for his books (click here for a rivetting read!) and after devouring this book in a couple of marathon sessions (it's that good), all those influences are clearly identifiable in this fast-paced story that keeps you reading way into the wee small hours.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Another truly amazing, rivetting and addictive slice of dystopian fiction from an author who is fast becoming the 'go-to' for darkly tinged and utterly essential middle grade sci fi.

"DustRoad" by Tom Huddleston is out now, published by Nosy Crow (Kindly supplied for review).