Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. If you’d like to check out my review policy, click here.
What happens when society wants you banged up in prison for a crime your parents committed?
That’s the situation in which Ant finds herself – together with her little brother Mattie and their foster-parents, she’s locked up in a new kind of family prison. None of the inmates are themselves criminals, but wider society wants them to do time for the unpunished ‘heritage’ crimes of their parents.
Tensions are bubbling inside the London prison network Ant and Mattie call home – and when things finally erupt, they realize they’ve got one chance to break out. Everyone wants to see them punished for the sins of their mum and dad, but it’s time for Ant to show the world that they’re not to blame.
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I was so looking forward to reading this book that when it was released on NetGalley I pounced on it, and proceeded to check my emails repeatedly until my request was approved. There were some brilliant concepts in this book, but it unfortunately it fell shy of hitting the (admittedly very high) bar that I had set for it.
The world that Mayo has created comprises of a twisted political system based upon the notion of ‘heritage crime’ whereby relatives of criminals, now known as ‘strutters’ thanks to the metal strap attached to their backs, are incarcerated so they can do time on behalf of their families. Pretty messed up, huh? I was absolutely in love with this concept when I first heard about the book, and considering the blame culture perpetuated by the media that we do currently live in, the idea is just real enough to create a truly chilling dystopian setting.
Whilst the background information given about the development of heritage crime was interesting, I wanted more. I would have liked more in-depth information about the political unrest that led to the law being passed, the impact of the media, the motivation of politicians and the establishment of the strutter prisons before getting down and dirty with prison riots and action-packed set pieces. In this respect, there was too much action in the present and not enough initial world building for me to invest emotionally in the plot.
Ant and Mattie’s sibling relationship is well drawn, and I really like the way the importance of their Haitian identity was shown through the Creole dialogue that they used when they shared secrets, or were angry or scared and seeking comfort. I’m a big advocate of books that recognise the importance of the different kinds of platonic relationships in our lives, and Ant and Mattie’s bond was a great portrayal of an intense bond forged through unconditional love and difficult circumstance.
Mayo’s writing is pleasant, with simple, flowing prose that makes the story easy to follow. The novel is written from Ant’s point of view, but each chapter begins with a short diary entry from Mattie and there are occasional flashbacks to the siblings’ upbringing in both their biological and foster families. The flashbacks provide some interesting insight into Ant and Mattie’s characters, and add some nuance to Ant’s behaviour in the present. Whilst I liked the flashbacks, the diary entries didn’t seem to add anything of significance to either the plot or Mattie’s character development.
The heroes are fairly well drawn, and I enjoyed Ant’s fierce and uncompromising nature. Dan and Gina are sympathetic characters, and their son Max adds a much-needed connection to the outside world and information on the wider political context. The real villain here is the heritage crime system, but the would-be villain in the book, Assessor Grey, is bland. There’s a propensity towards violence and enough sneer to make him unlikeable, but there isn’t anything that made him stand out as an evil dystopian warlord the likes of President Snow, or a calculating and highly intelligent strategist such as Chaos Walking’s Mayor Prentiss. He’s just kind of underwhelming, and definitely not a worthy foe for the formidable Ant.
For me, the plot had pacing issues. The beginning was slow, with too much emphasis on day-to-day prison life for Ant and co and nowhere near enough political and societal world building, which led me to keep picking it up and then putting it down for days. Once tensions reached boiling point in prison, Mayo did pick up the pace and I found it much easier to remain engaged with the story. However, with the improvement of pace came the sacrifice of the plot, which seemed to lose direction. I won’t list them here (because duh, spoilers) but the last section was full of plot holes big enough to trip over. A few of them were so poorly thought out that they had me muttering “Really?!” under my breath in public places, which probably made me look a bit unstable. Hey ho.
Despite my love for a happy ending, sometimes it is impossible to bend your plot to give the characters a way out. Often things don’t work out for the best and ordinary people can’t magic themselves out of a tight spot. This book is based on a fantastic concept and there’s some really strong characterisation and writing in places, but sadly, there’s just not enough depth for this to be the blockbuster summer read of my dreams.
- Author: Simon Mayo
- Publication Date: 7th July 2016
- Publisher: Penguin Random House
- Pages: 472
- Rating: 3/5
- In short: Prisons and politics, but no pizzazz.