||A review by Nathan Brazil
Copyright © 2004 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."
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.
"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."'
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 www.inkdigital.org.