Malorie Blackman, Noble Conflict

Doubleday, 2013, ISBN 978-0385610421

A new book by the new Children’s Laureate, what a treat.

Noble Conflict is set in a post-nuclear world in which the Alliance is on constant alert against the Insurgents: murderous, vengeful rebels from the Badlands. The Alliance is built on peace and harmony. Its weapons stun but never kill, for as the High Council constantly tells the citizens, only by refusing to stoop to their enemies’ tactics can they conquer the terrorist threat.

Eighteen year-old Kaspar is the son of two long-dead heroes of the Alliance, though he is determined to make his own way, not to rely on their influence for advancement. He gains entry to the Guardians, the elite squad set up to protect the state, and quickly makes waves. Ever vigilant, he enlists the help of purple-haired librarian Mac, a young woman with phenomenal abilities at data analysis, to understand the nature of the threat the Alliance is under, as he has spotted some suspicious activity. When his best friend in the squad is killed in a terrorist attack, Kaspar is mysteriously saved from death by one of the Insurgents, a girl called Rhea, who warns him that he should know who his enemies are. He starts having strange dreams and visions, in which he remembers things he has never experienced.

A string of brutal attacks take place. Kaspar is appalled by the wanton murder of hundreds of school children. He and Mac delve deeper into the awesome Alliance computer records to ascertain the Insurgents’ tactics. Gradually he discovers devastating truths with huge implications, truths involving deception, torture and conspiracy on a massive and terrifying scale. He has to make some very tough decisions, and Mac does too.

The teenage book market is full of dystopian fiction, but there is surely room for this impressive new entry to the ranks. Blackman’s formidable story-telling abilities are well in evidence here. Noble Conflict is a powerful tale, full of excitement and surprises, and with great protagonists. It also packs a strong moral punch, with potent questions about abuse of power and the role of the state.