Sharp North – Book Review

Sharp North
by Patrick Cave
First published in Great Britain in 2004 by Simon & Schuster UK.
Published in USA in 2006 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York.

Imagine a future in which the Earth has gone through drastic climate changes, and northern Europe is permanently covered in snow, and Mediterranean Europe is bone dry, save for the rising seas.  Human life becomes more difficult and uncertain, and few European settlements are still inhabitable.  Technological development, though advanced, has come to a standstill, as natural resources have become extremely scarce.

However, artificial genetic and reproductive technologies are still thriving, and serve as the backbone to this controlled modern Britain.  Conceiving a child has become a luxury only available to members of the Great Families or their wannabees, the upper class known as Visions…and natural conception is out of the question, a filthy and irresponsible alternative only undertaken by the low class Scroats.  Responsible families with enough money must first file applications with the Fertility Board, then get to choose the most attractive and advantageous genetic characteristics for their child.  Despite society’s unbridled affair with genetic manipulation, the state has put a ban on cloning, due to physical abnormalities that frequently were present in the experimental clones.  However, the Great Families see no reason to follow this statute, and they create clones to ensure the continuation of their power in the years to come.  These “spare” clones can come in handy as either a temporary replacement (in the case of injury or temporary amnesia a la Dave) or as extra body organs that are a perfect match.

Amid the wails of this disordered society are Mira, a plucky young woman chased from her isolated northern village, and Kay, the distracted and rebellious Scroat son of a powerful Saint family leader.  Mira witnesses a mysterious murder, and can’t ignore what she’s seen.  She vows to make sense not only of the crime itself, but of her friend Gil’s indifference to it.  Why was a woman from the South in her village, and what did she do to deserve such a cold death?  Mira’s insatiable thirst for understanding drives her to drastic measures and to a world she never knew existed.  Kay lives a life of privilege, separated from the gritty life all around him.  Like most teen lit rich kids, he longs to live a normal life, and to blend in with other Scroats like himself.  In Sharp North, Mira and Kay must push themselves further than they ever believed possible in order to answer their purpose that grows more concrete by the day.

Although I haven’t many novels about future dystopias since high school, but I found Sharp North to be a great combination of dramatic tension, fast-paced action, character development, soapboxing on issues, and interpersonal relations.  I enjoyed Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four and Huxley’s Brave New World, but I think that Cave adds an added portion of emotional relatability into his protagonist Mira.  Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that she and I are both female, but I think that Mira’s quiet moments in her isolated, snowy village, endow her with a certain sense of country, if not old-world, charm.  Sharp North, though engaging, was a long read at more than 500 pages.  Some critics have complained that parts of the story move too slowly, but I enjoyed those sections that allowed me to really get to know the changes going on in the characters.  I highly recommend Sharp North for teen readers ages 14 and up and for adults, with warnings about the content (mentioned above) for younger readers.

Sequel AND Prequel – in one volume (yep!):
Blown Away: British title, originally published in 2006
The Selected: Published in 2010
(According to author Patrick Cave’s website, Blown Away is book two in the series and The Selected is book three.  However, according to every other bibliographical resource I’ve looked at (Novelist, WorldCat, etc), they are the same book, although they have different titles and different covers.  If anyone has read them and knows, please do comment below.  I ordered Blown Away from inter-library loan, as I don’t really like the typeface in The SelectedSharp North used “Bembo” font; I liked that quite a bit.)

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5 responses to “Sharp North – Book Review

  1. “Sharp North” sounds like a very interesting read! I loved that genre as a teenager and look forward to checking it out! Great review!

  2. Read it, and agree with you entirely-strangely enough I didn’t see the twist at the end coming, it gave me a shock.

  3. @Sophie – The twist got me, too! Now I’m reading the prequel/sequel, “The Selected” (aka “Blown Away” in the U.K.) and I’m nearly finished. It’s really good and it brings back a lot of the characterizations that I enjoyed in “Sharp North.” I recommend it, at least so far (and I’m only 40 pages from the end). Great read!

  4. UPDATE – I read “The Selected” and I loved it. Of course, I still took issue a bit with the author’s style (very teen-angsty, but to be expected for this genre), but the plot and characterization were great. I wanted to write a full review, but it got away from me and I had to return the book to the public library. Alas. But if you liked “Sharp North,” I can recommend “The Selected” with vigor.
    ALSO – I think I’ll be doing my first booktalk (for a class assignment) on “Sharp North”. We’ll see.

  5. UPDATE: I successfully got a coworker (adult reference librarian) to begin reading “Sharp North.” #win

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