Tuesday, July 10, 2012

57. Heartsease by Peter Dickinson (part II of the Changes trilogy)

Again, a beautiful edition
that I don't have.
Heartsease takes place about 5 years after the events of the Devil's Children.  The world of England after The Changes has settled into a pre-industrial state, with people gathered in isolated communities, surviving off the land.  We have another female protagonist here, Margaret, who lives with her aunt and uncle and older cousin Jonathon on a small farm in a small and, as we soon learn, superstitious, xenophobic village.

The book starts in medias res, with Margaret poking around after a stoning of a witch.  She notices that the stones are moving and with the help of her cousin they end up rescuing the witch, who turns out to be an American airman, sent over to investigate what happened to England and report back.  He was trying to send signals from his wireless device when the village discovered him.

The rest of the book is the children trying to heal him back to health and figure out how to help him escape.  All the while, we are slowly shown the nature of the village and the fear that dominates it.  People affected by the changes have varying abilities to sniff out technology and the de facto village leader is a classic small-minded, sneaky and suspicious little tyrant.  He keeps coming back to Margaret's farm, suspecting something is up and sensing evil around.  Every now and then he also ignites the townsfolk to go on a witch hunt.  At one point, they kill a bird with a broken wing because they think it is the escaped witch.

Dickinson does a great job of portraying the small, fearful minds of the close-minded rural.  Here there is a concrete explanation for their behaviour, the Changes have done something to their minds.   And the children go to pains to try and excuse the nastiness (and you sense Dickinson behind them trying to remind us that these people are still human beings as well).  However, it really does feel like a condemnation of that kind of irrational, fearful thinking that leads so quickly to violence that we see in so many places in the world (I couldn't help but think of the American far right and their fear of so much in the world).  When you are reading this, you really hate those people!  He does a great job of creating tension.  The last half is a super-exciting escape.

These books are short and thrilling. I would have liked just a bit more exploration of England after the Changes. There are lots of cool hints, like dog packs and blackened cities, but as a nerd, I like a bit more world-building.  Overall, though, another great chapter in this trilogy.

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