Published February 2014, Text Publishing
The rise and rise of the YA dystopian novel seems to come at a time in our history when there is a conglomeration of so many real and perceived threats to our future. How do you pick which is the most frightening when there are so many to choose from: climate change and its consequences, war, disease, social catastrophe stemming from widening economic class rifts, sentient technology, velociraptors. Right here, right now – from an increase in extreme weather events, to the Crimea, Nigeria, the Levant, to ebola, to the 1%, to velociraptors, we are on the brink of something.* And maybe that’s why we are eating up dystopias like never before. Maybe those futures seem closer than ever.
Couple that to the obvious appeal for teens to read about teens running around with their bae, throwing shade at those, like, salty adults who have totally screwed the world over. There will be feels. I can’t even.
The obvious 21st century successes are of course Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, to name a tiny fraction.
Jane Higgins’ Havoc joins the ranks, ticking many of my aforementioned threat boxes – minus the sentient technology and, surprisingly, velociraptors. Why isn’t anyone talking about velociraptors? Ahem… I digress. Havoc tells a tale of two cities playing havoc with each other.† The cities are split by a river along the lines of wealth, race and language into the rich Cityside and the disadvantaged Southside. Sort of like an 18th century Budapest tipped 180⁰ clockwise. ‡
When Cityside breaks Southside’s ceasefire and blows a bridge to pieces, the Moldam area of Southside is plunged into chaos and panic. From the rubble of the bridge, our main fellow Nik rescues a mysterious girl who cries out “havoc”. When it seems clear that there is a more sinister plan afoot than your regular everyday shelling, Nik and Lanya (our second main fellowess) travel across to Cityside to discover what they have in store for Southside.
What, oddly enough, was most refreshing was the levelheadedness of the characters. While it is usual to see characters in adventure stories who are almost cartoonish in their risk-it-all-for-[insert character’s greatest prize here] attitude, I was pleasantly surprised that not once did I have to shake the book and cry “what the hell did you do that for?” at any of the characters.§ They do what they do for good reason and it’s dangerous enough without throwing stupidity into the mix.
Havoc is Jane Higgins’ second book of the Southside book series, following on from The Bridge. While it is well-rounded and self-contained, Havoc may be a more relaxed reading experience if you were already acquainted with the characters and their past adventures. But there is also plenty of room for more books to follow. So clearly my message is, go out and get yourself both books so you’re ready for the next one, yeah?
*I hear we still have a little way to go on truly independent technology but the only people happy about this are those who’ve never seen The Terminator or those who are aware they’re working for Skynet right now and have fashioned themselves a bunker and an Iron Man suit.
†See what I did there? With the havoc and the Dickens? Ah, I amuse myself.
‡I may have my history wrong there, but I’m pretty sure Pest had a bit more of a task rebuilding than Buda did. Please school me on my wrongs.
§Or, ”What are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Or, “If you’d just waited 2 more seconds…” Or, “That didn’t work last time, what makes you think…” Or, “Put that gun down, now. Put it down.” Or, “No. No. Not alone. Why are you going alone? Why… argh!”