X-Isle by Steve Augarde
Published by David Fickling Groups (Random House imprint), October 2009;
Review by Bridie Roman
Biblical floods have consumed the earth and overpopulation is causing food to become scarce. We can no longer function as hunter gatherers and are reliant on salvaged canned food. But one family has found a way to profit from this situation- the Ecks. The island they have claimed, their tug boat and diving suits make them powerful men, able to command those who live on “the mainland”. X-Isle soon becomes the number one destination for young boys, the only civilians allowed to work for the Ecks. For Baz it’s a way to help his father, the only family member he has left, to survive. With the rumour of three meals a day and a proper bed to sleep in Baz is willing to do anything to get there. But when he wins a place on the boat and finds himself under the merciless control of Preacher John’s religious fanaticism he isn’t so sure that the safety of X-Isle is all it promised to be.
Having a somewhat morbid obsession with the apocalypse, this book was right up my street. The imagery of sunken houses and the tops of cranes peeping out over the top of the sea was fascinating; the idea that in an instant the world as we know it could change completely was terrifying. The setting and the world building is a major strength of the book, with the threat of global flooding increasingly possible and the realism of how Augarde portrayed Earth, it was impossible not to imagine yourself in the same situations.
The young heroes of the story are the perfect epitome of teenage boys, all farts and scowls and tough guy talk, but underneath they are pretty soft. Each character had his own unique nature (Baz: kind and caring, Ray: aggressive and assertive but mostly only in defence) and each was very realistic, right down to “Cookie”, the fat chef who only enters the story for a short while. I especially enjoyed the growing friendships and camaraderie between the boys and their inventiveness (who, other than a teenage boy, would think of making a fart based bomb?). Not to mention the bad guys, who were bad. Loathsome in fact, from Preacher John and his sons right down to the tyrannical Capos. I loved to hate them and was actually genuinely scared by them at some points.
The plot is pretty simple; end of the world style destruction, struggling to survive, taking down the bad guys. But there are a few twists that you just don’t see coming, one to do with a character and another during the final climax on the Eck’s boat. These blew me out of the water so to speak; I didn’t see them coming but when you think back over the story it all fits into place seamlessly. None of the plot was random; it was all connected all determined from the start just hidden inside the text, waiting till the end of the book when you suddenly realise that the clues were there; you just didn’t notice.
I felt real horror and shock during the book, and disbelief that such a dictatorship could be instantly created at a point when the world needs compassion and free co-operation. The dystopia that was X-isle proved to be direct opposite of what had been promised at the start of the book. A grimy hell hole that was so well realised you just know it could happen, if the opportunity arose. But thankfully there was a happy ending. Now, most of the time I have a problem with happy cheery endings (everyone knows there’s no such thing, it’s not realistic and so on) but this time I thought it was well deserved and well written. It wasn’t a “and they all lived happily ever after” ending, not everyone lived, it wont necessarily last forever but it was hopeful and for a stand alone novel it tied up things quite nicely but could also entail a sequel.
X-Isle would suit Young Adults, both male and female, but is “grown up” enough to capture the attention of the adult fantasy world. It’s fast paced and thrilling, making it an easily enjoyable read.
Review by Bridie Roman October 09