THE FEARLESS by EMMA PASS
PB, 392 pages, Corgi
Please be aware that this review contains spoilers!
In 2013’s “ACID”, the UK of the imminent future was oppressed by a brutal police force, but the near-future England of “The Fearless” is markedly different. Scientists trying to find a treatment for PTSD in soldiers have come up with a new wonder drug. It makes their soldiers faster, stronger, with enhanced capabilities. It takes away their fear. It takes away their conscience.
It drives them insane.
Escaping with her mother and newborn baby brother to one of the sea forts that lurk a short distance from the coasts of Hampshire and Dorset, Cass is brought up believing that the world has ended, that there are no more communities and her island world is the only place left that hasn’t been overrun by crazed silver-eyed super soldiers. But when a pair of Fearless breach the security of the island and kidnap her little brother, Cass is forced to return to the mainland to try to save him, and there she discovered that the situation is a little different to what she has been told.
Aided by Myo, a stranger to the island who keeps his secrets concealed, and by his community who are hiding out in a WWII bunker in the Staffordshire hills, Cass must make her way to Sheffield. To the Torture House, a former shopping complex, where the Fearless take their prisoners for conversion. But it’s not only the Fearless she should be afraid of, but pseudo-military force The Magpies, who have their own, equally brutal methods of conversion. And a dangerous figure from the island, who has his own plans for Cass.
The story is told in the first person, but the action switches between the three main viewpoint characters, Cass, Myo, and Sol, a childhood friend of Cass who follows her to the mainland. It’s not a style I’m a fan of, but I can understand why Emma Pass chose to write it this way and I think, for the book, it works well. I think I would have preferred the whole book to be from Cass’s POV, or written in third person, but that’s just me nit-picking. Certainly there are things the reader knows about Myo and Sol that Cass doesn’t, so half the fun in the book is witnessing her find out things the reader had already worked out.
Some of the plot twists and turns are signposted a bit too clearly, but there are a some enjoyable shocks and thrills, and the characters are excellent – the mental unravelling of Sol from nice boy to violent thug is particularly well depicted, especially in the scenes that are written from his POV. We can see and sympathise with his position without ever forgiving or condoning it, and it’s a masterful piece of writing.
Although “The Fearless” has many similar themes and tropes that also appeared in “ACID” (kidnappings, bomb plots, artificial islands, a highly resourceful and sympathetic heroine), this is a more mature, complex novel that delves deeper into the psyche of its main characters, and asks sharp questions about the nature of good and bad, and of humanity, leaving the reader wondering who the real enemy is. It’s also crying out for a sequel. I don’t know whether Emma Pass has one in the works, but lets hope she does, because there are some very interesting unanswered questions left hanging once the book is finished.