book reviews by Althea

The Devil’s Children – Peter Dickinson ***

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The Apocalypse! Now! With More Tolerance-For-Sikhs!

I remember liking this whole trilogy when I was a kid, but I also recall that this one wasn’t my favorite. I was surprised how little of the book felt familiar to me upon re-reading.

We’re dropped into a post-apocalyptic scene. A young British girl is alone in a mostly-abandoned London struck by plague – and odder phenomena. All Britons, it seems, have been struck by some syndrome that makes them fly into a violent rage at the sight, sound, or presence of machinery or technology. This syndrome also makes them unable to think about certain topics.

In desperation, the girl attaches herself to an extended Sikh immigrant family that happens to be passing by in search of a more amenable place to live.

Together, they set themselves up on an abandoned farm – but more conflict is yet to come, due to the local village’s xenophobia, which has been enhanced by this mysterious syndrome.

The main raison-d’etre of the book really does seem to be tolerance-for-Sikhs. They’re set up to be the misunderstood heroes, and described lovingly (if somewhat exotically). The books is dedicated to a person whom I assume might’ve been a Sikh friend of the author. (And you know, maybe it worked on a subconscious level. I DO have a higher opinion of Sikhs than members of many other religions…)

However, the apocalypse here is both enigmatic and inconsistent. Why on earth would these ‘changes’ affect only native Britons, not immigrants? Why would affected people be able to think about medieval knights, but not WWII? Why are blacksmith’s forges OK, but not even the most basic firearm? Why are some people apparently still able to tolerate thinking about leaving the country in modern ships, if buses are intolerable? There are possible explanations, but none are given, or even theorized about.

After one surprisingly-violent showdown, the book ends rather abruptly. In today’s market, it would’ve been expected to be at least twice as long. Overall, by today’s standards, this isn’t a bad book… but it’s not without its flaws.


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