Book Review: The Fifth: Indoctrinated City by Chris Sykes

“For the last few summers York had suffered severe heatwaves, followed by torrential downpours and flash flooding. Worries had been expressed about a global catastrophe. The government labelled them as Project Fear, which the media organisations lapped up. Those worries were soon discarded, as popular opinion mimicked the government’s derision.”

Reading that quote, you could be forgiven for thinking Chris is writing about life in 2021, but it’s set in a dystopian (possibly very near) future where a fascist majority are in power, the government are no longer held to account, laws have been passed making certain people illegal and these people are being hunted by the Patrol.

The opening parts of this book are gripping and tense. It starts with a family being separated as the Patrol try to hunt them down; Jack and his mother end up in the castle, whilst Jenny and Zo find themselves underground with their estranged father. The separating of the family is emotional and difficult to read about at times but allows us to see the two very different sides and settings of the revolution in York.

My favourite thing about this book was the York setting. I love books with Northern settings. York is a place that I know well, so seeing this story play out in places that that I am familiar with added something to the story for me. I enjoyed spotting the landmarks and being able to picture the places where things were happening.

There is a lot of history packed into the early parts of this book, setting the background and historical precedent of the building revolution in York. I enjoy history and knew some of what was included (the battle of Culloden for example) but readers could find it a lot to take in if it is new to them. This new revolution is set in York and I loved seeing how the two parts were organised and lived. They are very different places with different rules. I personally preferred reading about the underground society because I really liked the characters there and it followed Zo who was my absolute favourite. I found her adorable; I loved her innocence and her optimistic outlook about everything injected some much needed lightness into the story.

As well as living through the horrors of the revolution, the characters are dealing with a lot of personal issues. Jenny is struggling with finding herself attracted to someone in The Fifth (and is challenging and trying to overcome some internalised homophobia), whilst Jack is dealing with bullying and self-harming. Neither of these are explored in great detail; this is very much a plot driven book not a character driven one, but both issues are sensitively handled.

Some parts of this book are brutal, Chris does not shy away from the realities of living outside of society or from the more gruesome aspects of the revolution and the battles. The end was shocking and parts of it hurt my heart, but it feels like the start of something positive, and and ending I can definitely get behind.

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