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Untied Kingdom
James Lovegrove
Gollancz, 404 pages

Untied Kingdom
James Lovegrove
James Lovegrove, who also writes as J.M.H. Lovegrove, is an Arthur C. Clarke Award short-listed author. He was born on Christmas Eve, 1965. Despite the rumour and the year and a half he spent in Chicago between 1995 and 1996, he remains inarguably, ineluctably, irretrievably, irrevocably British. He lives in Lewes, East Sussex.

James Lovegrove Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Hope
SF Site Review: Imagined Slights
SF Site Review: The Foreigners
SF Site Review: The Foreigners
SF Site Review: The Krilov Continuum
SF Site Review: The Hand That Feeds
James Lovegrove Profile

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


'"One of the vans stopped and a couple of men jumped out, Fen." Said Beth. Her hand was still on his shoulder. "Jumped out, grabbed her, pulled her into the van, drove away. I can still hardly believe it."'
Untied Kingdom is near-future fiction with a razor sharp edge. The story is set in an England ravaged by war, and deliberately cut off from the rest of the world. The government has fled to Bermuda, leaving the battered population to pick up the pieces. Those who live in the countryside try to maintain something similar to normality, in what Pink Floyd famously described as 'hanging on in quiet desperation.' They are assisted by individuals who have taken up the names and leadership of legendary figures such as Robin Hood, Lady Godiva and the Green Man. In savage contrast to this typically English eccentricity, marauding gangs now rule the big cities, and one of the most notorious are the London gang known as the British Bulldogs. While their leader, the aptly named King Cunt, is away negotiating with a rival gang, his boys go on a bitch hunt; a raid to steal women for use in their private brothel. The gang descend on the small town of Downbourne, where Fen Morris, a teacher, lives with his wife Moira. The marriage has been falling apart for some time, though neither wants to admit the truth. When Downbourne is raided, Moira is among those taken captive. Here the story splits in two, divided between Fen's faltering attempt to rescue his wife, and her first person perspective on life as the concubine of the Bulldog leader.
'"I'm getting the distinct impression you don't think much of politicians."

"Line 'em all up and shoot 'em," Beam said cheerfully. Of course, I don't ever expect this utopian fantasy of mine to come to pass. It's just a dream I have. A dream of leaders who do us justice rather than do us over."'

James Lovegrove has an easy, fluent style, which is a joy to read. His characterisation is superb, his dialogue always realistic, and his plot frighteningly believable when in the present tense. On the negative side, is a lack of clarity when it comes to the back story. Untied Kingdom is set in a devastated England, yet the explanation for how this came about is sparse. We learn that the UK was bombed by a vague organisation called the International Community. The war, subsequent blockade, and continued air raids, was precipitated by what is described only as the Unlucky Gamble. Details as to exactly what went so badly wrong, and how a nuclear power could be broken so completely without the use of weapons of mass destruction, remains unexplained. Fortunately, the author delivers plenty of depth when dealing directly with his cast. The British Bulldog leader is shown to be much more than a crop-haired criminal, and his unusual relationship with Moira is full of surprises. Equally, the array of individuals that Fen meets on his hapless travels are a delight. Among them are a group of bookworms who use the works of their favourite author as the basis for a embryonic religion, a closet gay Indian train driver who has stolen some rolling stock, and an irrepressible member of the landed gentry using his estate as an idyllic retreat for his family, friends, and anyone who happens to find their way there. These supporting characters are so nicely drawn, that it's impossible not to care when the harshness of the new England touches their lives. Lovegrove's technique with his lead characters, Fen and Moira Morris, allows them to interact with the plot rather than dominate it, resulting in a smooth blend of adventure, raw emotions and evolving relationships. Recommended reading.

Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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