Saturday, February 27, 2010
15. Wild Jack by John Christopher
Wild Jack is one of John Christopher's young adult novels, a rare stand-alone (most of his works in this genre are trilogies, including the tripods and the Sword of the Spirits series). It's the story of a post-apocalyptic world that has been rebuilt into walled city-states, generic and hierarchical, where young aristocrats live protected lives and fear the bogeymen of the wilderness on the other side of the walls (Wild Jack being the best known one outside London).
The young hero is highly ranked (his father is one of the leading city councilmen) and doesn't question the status quo. He is actually quite happy with things, as he got a new boat and is smitten with his hot cousin who has come to stay with him. He does overhear some rabble-rousing words by an older boy at a party, who defends the dignity of an older servant. At first this seems to be just a teaching moment for the protagonist, but it suddenly takes on a much more ominous light when he is pulled from his classroom and interrogated about it by some frightening investigators a type of which he'd never encountered before.
As the interrogation continues, and the hero starts to lose his insouciant superiority, they accuse him of being the speaker of the treasonous words. Before he can get in touch with his connected father, he is whisked off to an airship and sent to a prison island, a brutal place, led by cruel guards and populated with other boys who had committed actual crimes against the society. He begins to doubt all that is good in his world and adventure ensues.
It's a good, quick read, a rollicking adventure that I'm quite sure most boys of the appropriate age will enjoy. My only complaint was that the foundation of the story is complicated enough that this could have easily merited a trilogy as well. It feels all wrapped up a bit too quickly. Look at me, complaining about a book not being a trilogy!
It's interesting to posit John Christopher's young adult novels to his earlier adult ones. He seems to have dropped entirely the self-doubt and sexual ambiguity of the latter. Here, the boy is confident and young romance seems to blossom without too many internal or psychological problems. There is a lot of conflict between the boys, though, that I seem to remember from the Tripods as well. I think it wouldn't be too inaccurate or dismissive to say that Christopher had found a rough formula that worked at a large popular level where his earlier adult novels never did. Perhaps the male conflict, basically a rivalry but one that has serious consequences for the protagonist, is less fraught for the reader than intra-gender conflict, which always seemed so fraught with self-doubt for Christopher. Boys don't want to know about that stuff. I was sort of holding off on looking for Christopher's young adult fantasy double trilogy, The Sword of the Spirit series, but now I'm much more interested in checking it out.