Genre: Fiction/Psychological Thriller
Pub Date: 2021
Length: 343 pages
Kindle Edition: £1.99/Paperback Edition: £8.99
What would you do if a man you hated appeared on your doorstep, fleeing from his would-be murderers, and tricked his way into your house? If you could be killed for sheltering him? This is Ed’s dilemma. Ed is not a hero. He is easily bullied and blackmailed. Living under a totalitarian regime, he has learned to survive using trickery and deceit. But how low will he stoop when the going gets really tough? This psychological thriller is about power and its abuses.
In a not to distant future, a self-made group calling themselves The Peacemakers, have control over the town. The town in question is never named. It doesn’t need to be. The citizens live in quiet fear. The enemy is the Drudjers – immigrants, refugees, ‘foreigners’ – others. Or are they?
This is a microcosm of our world, where people do whatever they can to survive in trying circumstances. There are decent people, there are bad people, and there are the morally ambiguous.
We follow Ed, a regular computer tech guy, as he is pushed to make a decision many have during wartime throughout history – do I save the stranger on the doorstep or leave him to the militia? Although, in Ed’s case, the decision is made for him – as it is in many situations that follow. Ed is a man whose wife has just recently left him, taking their two children with her. Ed has recently lost his job, after devoting himself to the company, whose system he helped develop. Ed is frightened, easily manipulated, used and cowed. The story is told in first person narrative, so we rely on Ed to be honest – and he is. His honesty – and his actions – will have you pitying him, initially. But for how long?
The Kids of God has a Kafkaesque quality, especially at the beginning. The staccato sentences that denote Ed’s thought pattern, fractured, frightened, work very well to convey a sense of fear and confusion. It isn’t utterly bizarre in the traditional Kafka sense, although we do take time to realise the world that is being portrayed. It isn’t totally illogical, except when a character makes decisions that are the sort of conclusions one might make under duress. But it is a nightmare world that Appleby has created, with the powerlessness of the protagonist and the crushing authority of The Peacemakers.
There are sections in Kids of God that are uncomfortable to read – be prepared – but read them you must. The events become pretty horrific. The treatment of secondary characters unforgivable. One’s initial opinions of Ed are challenged. We don’t have a lot of background about this protagonist, he doesn’t tell us why his wife left. We are in the here and now, and war makes cowards or heroes of us all.
I like that the story takes place in one town. The author has kept the lens focused close on the protagonist’s actions. There’s no grand landscape, or expansion elsewhere. We only know what is happening in Ed’s world, Ed’s town, right now. It successfully keeps us adhered to the moment, keeps us learning as Ed learns, experiencing as Ed experiences. This also makes for a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere, combining the domestic intimacy with the real and ever-present danger of being caught. The secondary character is a Peacemaker named Nikov, who initially comes across as a two-dimensional Nazi style Brown Shirt. We are meant to despise him because of what he represents, vigilante militia, and because Ed is frightened of them and Ed’s our hero. But the two dimensionality is a deliberate foil by the author, Nikov is an extremely complicated character who presents as a simple man following what he believes in. Ed and Nikov are neighbours in a street that has lost many of its residents and one comes increasingly to rely on the other, or does he?
This is a novel about how we treat people who are ‘not one of us’. How we view those from another country, or state or class. We presume, about ourselves, that we are decent individuals, but when things get hard, who are we looking out for, who do we care about – and who is to blame for the situations we find ourselves in?
This novel tackles, not only human behaviour towards foreigners, but through Ed, we can question what is going on inside our heads compared to what we present to the world, and reveals – horrifically, starkly – what actions erupt from people worn down by life and crushed by authority. This is, in places, a raw and uncompromising delve into impulses, and it comes with a Warning: it contains scenes of sex and violence.
Simultaneously engrossing and repulsive.
I did enjoy The Kids of God and give it