Terry Tyler’s latest, Blackthorn, is another dystopian novel set in the world she initially established in the Renova trilogy, but it stands up perfectly without you reading the others.

Blackthorn explores a Britain (and probably the rest of the world) that has collapsed and is being rebuilt with England having a tribal structure. A few small towns dominate the countryside with villages and other communities gradually falling to bands of travelling outlaws. Blackthorn is one of the most successful of these towns.

This isn’t a political book and a political theorist would, I suspect, struggle with the economic basis of Blackthorn. It isn’t quite a feudal system, because it’s not based on ownership of the land, but it does reflect the feudal era in that there is a strict hierarchy within the village with a hereditary leader supported by guards (equivalent to nobles) and then skilled workmen working its way down to people who are essentially serfs. There is a lot of exposition of the nature of the society, which made the book hard for me to get into. It also has an enormous cast with lots of minor characters and I initially found it quite difficult to keep track of everybody.

Fortunately, not that many of Terry Tyler’s readers are likely to be political nerds and once the story really gets going we begin to focus on a more manageable number of characters. The characterisation comes alive in a way which seemed unlikely in the opening chapters. I began to wonder if the characters had taken over from the author, because the plot, too, becomes much livelier. We move away from the details of the village economy, with its peculiar currency of chips and crowns (surely eaten away by inflation in any real-world economy expanding at that rate) and its tightly defined social structure and start getting into something more interesting, centred on the strengths and weaknesses of the people living there.

I had started reading almost with a sense of duty, but, as the plot picked up, I was increasingly drawn into it and by the end I was sitting up late to find out what happened next. This is encouraged by Terry Tyler’s prose style which is, as always, fluid and engaging.

I’m not going to say anything about the plot because it’s almost impossible to do so without spoilers. At first I thought it was boring and predictable, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s all I’ll say and that’s probably too much.

There are a lot of people who will be put off this book, with its dystopian background, its detailed invented society, and its discussion of religion, but they, like me, will probably find that it draws them in if they stay with it.

Definitely worth the read.

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