I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Troubadour Publishing on July 28th, 2014
Genres: Alternate History, Horror
‘You would like things to be the way they were when the country was run by people weighed down by the heavy burden of office. We know where that led us. We now have a country which is fighting to stay alive and afloat, with a population which is at least 15 million too many. We have to kill large sections of the population in order to survive.’
2050. Protagonist Mark Carradine is promoted to the post of Lord Commissioner of Health by the Lord Protector, the ruler of a totalitarian regime. Tasked with reducing the country’s population by 15 million to save resources, one of his top priorities is ‘Take Your Leave’, a euthanasia programme aimed at the elderly and disabled. Carradine, who follows his chilling instructions to the letter, has to cope with many threats to his personal and professional life. He is also ordered to bring his brother in from a remote part of the country, where he has been running a rebel Christian community, to become the Archbishop of Canterbury and a government spokesman. His public duty is to underline the authority of the state and to give the churches full support to the Lord Protector.
As in Orwell’s 1984, the state rules the population’s lives and has sole control of not only communication, but also the weapons. From Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia, it is easy to see how, when civil society collapses and people seek order and structure, a totalitarian society can evolve – even in a country with a long history of democratic government, such as the UK. The novel examines such a state coming into existence and looks at how such circumstances can only serve to bring out the worse – but also sometimes the best – in people. It is a frightening scenario made all the more so because of the realistic way that Blair has approached the subject.
This work of speculative fiction is particularly relevant due to the current debate on government surveillance of internet traffic, reminding us of how easily individuals can cede information to the government. “I was inspired by 1984, especially knowing how close on a couple of occasions we came to having a nuclear conflict during the Cold War,” says the author, who had inside knowledge, as a serving minister of the Crown, when world peace did come under severe threat.
I need to preface this review by saying that Tents of the Righteous is one of the most disturbing things I have ever read.
Don’t get me wrong, I deeply appreciate and thoroughly enjoy a disturbing read. Horror and gruesome violence are frequent themes in my reading, but the casual brutality of this book hit a new level with me. I don’t know how else to put that into perspective other than to present the fact: Tents of the Righteous is just over 200 pages, and in those pages we’re looking at over a million people dead. Let that sink in for a moment before we proceed.
The year is 2070, and England has suffered dramatically as the result of several natural disasters including massive flooding, which is referred to as “The Emergency”. Somehow this is directly correlated to overpopulation and resource wastefulness, and the result is the rise of a new kind of government who eliminates all human rights and religious presence and decides the population is 15 million too large to survive.
And so begins the culture of elimination and extermination.
With human rights abolished and complete control of resources, the government under the new “Lord Protector” becomes a monster that makes Hilter’s Final Solution look like amateur work. Any group of people that is inconvenient is slaughtered. Foreigners are deported. Gypsies are eliminated. Obese people are fitted in a jacket/chair version of the airport carry-on bag sizer, and if they can’t fit, they’re shipped off to torture island to lose the weight fast, or take a bullet in the head. To round up the gay population, the government staged ‘Pride Parades’, and then disemboweled the attendees. Even motorcyclists and caravanners are done away with.
Violence is encouraged, and different cities hold brutal, twisted Hunger-Games style televised executions for prizes and fame. Sports teams have been deported, but sports fans take part in competition to beat one another to death for the sake of former sports rivalry. The brutality is so pervasive that corpses and severed body parts decorate the streets, and are so common place in the every day life that children play on the streets under hanging bodies, and fail to understand stories of the past world, because ‘no one has been killed yet, and that is not realistic’.
Oh, and on one or two lines we learn that those occupying the highest political positions have some ‘transference technology’ telepathy. Which evolves into nothing. What?
Anyways. The main focus of this book is Mark Carradine, the new Lord Comissioner of Health. In this position, Carradine is tasked with designing the new “Take Your Leave” program, designed to eliminate another population group: the elderly. The motive of the program is to convince those over 70 to commit suicide for the newer generations, and if they won’t, to promote their family members to kill them in creative ways before leaving them out with the trash. Seriously.
The other focus of this book is Carradine’s brother, ‘Father Aidan’, who has escaped this world of violence by living self-sustainably with his commune of Christian followers. The powers that be have not shut down the gathering, yet, but they make it clear to Carradine that they want Aidan to return to the fray to occupy the role of “archbishop” to bring him under their thumb. Unfortunately, he seems to be the only character with any humanity, and he barely features in 40 pages.
This book is over-exposition to the maximum. Most of the information provided about the world was done through conversation, and it was not at all genuine conversation. No one turns to their partner of ten years, and relays their whole life as if the other person doesn’t know. They have been living in the world together, so the exposition conversation was contrived and awkward. “Hey honey, do you remember that we met in class and used to go on walks and got married 10 years ago and have a daughter?” It was absolutely bizarre.
What was most disturbing about this book was not just the violence itself, but the cool, casual passivity and acceptance of almost everyone involved. This is just the way the world is to these people, and that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Moreover, the writing style was exactly the same. The violence and death were described as flippantly as one might relay the weather, and the extreme emotional detachment left me eerily flummoxed. Even the death of what could be considered main characters was so minimally impacting, and only cursorily acknowledged! I am not sure whether this was intentional, but the absolute lack of literary variation or urgency was vexatious.
And what, for the love of god, was with excessive mention of tits? This one woman’s breasts were discussed more and acknowledged more than any other topic in this book besides the violence. It was obnoxious beyond belief.
I am more than a little bothered by the fact this was written by a pseudonymous former MP in the British government. The abstract suggested the used his knowledge of “what could really happen” in post-nuclear Britain to write this book, and that is just fucked up beyond words.
I get the feeling that based on the garbled ending and the fact that one of the main plot lines barely got off the ground, this may be working its way into a series. I really don’t see myself picking up follow up books though, the bitter taste in my mouth after this was enough.