Title: Noble Conflict
Author: Malorie Blackman
Who’s it for? Teens, mid to older teens.
What’s it about? From the war to end all wars a society based on peace has arisen, one at odds with the evil Insurgent rebels who want to take back the land they lost during the war. Kaspar Wilding is one of the new recruits to the peacekeeping force; the Guardians, whose main objective is to keep the population safe from the rebels without taking a single life.
But when Kaspar has a chance, brutal, encounter with one of the Insurgents, Rhea, he slowly begins to realise that the truth is vastly different from what he’s been told, and what the Guardians are really fighting for.
What’s good about it? I very much enjoyed the sweet, subtle romance. I’m putting this first because I did have my doubts in the beginning. All too often interesting plots of YA fiction can be sidelined by totally unnecessary romantic angst and will-they-won’t-they plots and love triangles. I was not in the mood for a love triangle when I read this. So I was pleasantly thrilled to realise that wasn’t where it was going at all! It was beautifully done and felt like it was part of a natural character progression.
The world building was rich and utterly awesome. It’s easy to imagine living in that world and I loved, loved, loved the idea of a non-lethal peacekeeping force. It makes what follows even more twisted. Because if you don’t kill your prisoners or execute traitors then you’re the good guys. Right?
Kaspar is a great main character. He’s smart, inquisitive and quite sweet. I really liked how his life was presented, what is relayed seems almost throwaway and yet nothing is as innocuous as it seems. The rest of his squad were wonderfully done, not a one of them seemed shallow or worse – purely there to die. They each had their own thoughts, feelings and worries. I especially liked Dillon, Janna and Mariska (it’s hard not to love a tiny terror who can, and does, take down any one who underestimates her). But regardless of how they laugh and joke with each other they’re still all soldiers. And they act like soldiers. Not like teenagers playing soldiers. The only real moments of humour came from the soldiers too, which was a lovely counterpoint to all the tragedy and destruction that took place.
What’s bad about it? Nothing really.
The verdict? This is fantastic. It’s a gripping, intelligent dystopia with plot twists you really don’t see coming. Yes, you had the usual trappings of a dystopia, but without them it’s not really a dystopia so that can always be forgiven. The world building is beautifully intricate without ever info-dumping, even seemingly innocuous lines turn out to later be important. Not a word is wasted.
But it’s not pretty. What Kaspar uncovers is horrific. It’s stark and gruesome and entirely unsettling. For a novel which surrounds a non-lethal peacekeeping force Blackman doesn’t skimp on violence and torture.
It all builds to the best conclusion where nothing can be trusted and nothing is completely resolved. it would have diminished the story if certain parts ended differently (though at the same time you kind of wish they did). But this isn’t a story about good versus evil, and the ending reflects this.
It haunts you afterwards in the way good books should.
I highly recommend it.