20 YEARS LATER by E J NEWMAN
PB, 313 pages, Dystopia Press
Emma Newman is an accomplished writer of creepy short stories for adults that wouldn’t be out of place in a “Tales of the Unexpected” collection. 20 Years Later is her first novel, set in a post-apocalyptic London and aimed squarely at a YA audience. A mysterious disaster, refered to only as “It” has befallen the world, and now, twenty years after the event, the dilapidated city is ruled by rival gangs.
Zane and his mother live in Bloomsbury, Miri’s healing skills helping them to live in uneasy peace with the three gangs whose territory borders their square. They are close, but Zane is growing up. A chance encounter with a mysterious stranger in an abandoned hospital building, and his search for the kidnapped sister of his friend Titus lead to revelations that threaten to drive a wedge between them, and risk not only the fragile family, but the delicate balance between the gangs. What do the mysterious “Unders” want with the girl they snatch off the streets, and what link does it have to Miri’s past?
Zane is a likeable hero, loyal to his friends and his mother, but the novel lacks, until the very end, a strong antagonist. The Unders are too remote, too mysterious, to make much of an impression, and the Red Lady, perhaps the most interesting character, is under-used. The novel would have worked better if the point-of-view had stayed fixed with, if not Zane, then Zane and his friends Titus and Erin, three children who share mysterious powers. However, this is the first volume in a projected trilogy, and hopefully the Red Lady will become a more significant presence as the story progresses and Zane and his friends start to discover more about their abilities.
The depiction of the ruins of London is very strong and well thought-out, with some wonderful touches of description, the bones on the streets, the post-industrial life of Zane and Miri, the complicated interactions of the gangs. There’s a lot here for YA fans to enjoy, and I predict that E J Newman will grow as a writer as the series progresses, and it will become richer and more fascinating. It’s a slightly shaky start to what promises to become a very interesting trilogy.