Book Review: The Never Dawn and Cloud Cuckoo, R.E. Palmer

Tell me, dear reader, if I were to tell you that everything you have ever known has been an untruth, how would you react? Would you rage against the dying of your belief system and societal structure? Would you seek evidence to prove my words either right, or wrong? Would you accept it, but do nothing about it?

You’ll never know, because you’re secure in the knowledge that this will never happen to you. Correct?

Now, I’d like you to meet Noah. He’s 18 and works in a factory, making parts for something much bigger than he is. He’s about to find out that maybe, just maybe, everything he believes in is a lie. This is the beginning of The Never Dawn, a book so intriguing I couldn’t put it down. The reader is drawn into the Ark, a place where a semi-divine being known as Mother controls a populace loosely based on a beehive; there are drones who handle the food and the waste; the workers in the farms, the factories and the research laboratories; the soldiers, known as Prefects – they keep the peace and ensure that the strict rules are adhered to, and the Queen, Mother herself. They work together in a hierarchical structure controlled by Mother, all working towards the same goal – to return to the surface of the Earth from where they have to exist deep underground, Earth itself has been rendered uninhabitable. Mother is said to be searching endlessly for the fastest way to the surface, before the enemies of the Ark can get there, or breach the walls and brainwash her ‘children’.

I have to say, at the beginning of this novel, I found the routine (and Noah’s views on it) really rather comforting. I have, for many years, suffered from anxiety and find routine and structure the best way to handle life. Dropping into the middle of Noah’s world and discovering someone for whom existence was defined by routine allowed me to empathise with the character and understand just how lost he felt when that routine was disrupted. The use of the first person present tense through the novels solidifies this and gives the reader the chance to engage with Noah at his deepest, all his secrets are transparent to us as we journey with him, even the ones he wishes he could hide from himself. The impression of drudgery is ever-present and the description provided intensifies this, everything is grey, eternal and full of a clawing desperation to reach the surface of the Earth. These are the moments of emotional upheaval so raw and vital in Noah’s mind that the reader cannot help but take notice.

It’s more than that though. Noah is no Katniss Everdeen, or Divergent’s Tris. These are both examples of young dystopian heroes who are thrust into a pre-existing part of their culture, immediately recognise that there’s something wrong and start mobilising themselves against it. It is this form of Young Adult dystopian fiction that has been popularised in the last few years, and The Never Dawn is a refreshing break from that. Despite finding out that the Ark in which he lives, and the guidance of the woman he calls Mother, may all be false, Noah strives to continue in the same vein, strives to emulate his hero and make sure that no one is ever aware of his transgressions. He follows his routine, the rest of his team follow theirs and everything, on the surface at least, appears harmonious.

This story, whilst loosely connected to Christianity through biblical allegory, is more a story about fanaticism and loss of faith through learning about the way the world around you functions. It looks at the improprieties people face from those who consider themselves to be superior, it shows how the nature of punishment is adapted for maximum humiliation according to that society’s sensibilities and, more than anything else, it shows us how those with fanatical beliefs are willing to cause pain for the stability they believe they have found within that structure.

When I read this story, I was reminded of the old adage from Through the Looking Glass, relating to ‘Jam tomorrow’ – the never fulfilled promise which is the most useful tool in keeping the downtrodden at your beck and call, using their hope for your own ends. In this way, Mother has created the ultimate society, she never has to give anything to the populace she controls; their own faith in returning to the surface one day is enough.

Biblical allegories aside, the story itself is intriguing, and the author has built an incredible world using a mixture of science fiction, fantasy and dystopian tropes. Using clear influences from Orwell and Huxley, he has created a world which all too easily resonates in the present political and social climate. The writing style itself felt a little too simplistic for me at the beginning. The sentences were all very short and punchy which, whilst it does move the pace of the book on quickly and almost with the desperation that Noah is feeling, it forces the reader to start and stop throughout, losing the feeling of continuous thought – it’s jarring, for me at least. However, as the book progressed, this style changed and the narrative became more fluid, either that or I was too engrossed in the content to notice the grammar, which anyone can tell you is bizarre for me.

Whilst the Never Dawn does a great job of setting the scene and building up to a huge cliffhanger, I preferred Cloud Cuckoo. It seemed more rounded than the Never Dawn and, whilst giving the reader answers to some burning questions, heightened Noah’s feelings of fear and hopelessness to an almost unbearable point. It shows how a society can break down through one small act of disobedience, the extreme methods taken by its lawkeepers to regain control, and it showed pain and human suffering on a level that I wouldn’t have expected. They are both, however, really rather clever, and have an appeal far beyond ‘young adult’. I cannot wait for the third instalment, which I’m told is due soon, so you’ll need to get reading now if you want to catch up in time for its release!

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