Book Review: The Ship by Antonia Honeywell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone/Book 1
Publisher: Orbit (April 25, 2017)
Length: 336 pages
Author Information: Website
Just when I thought I’d seen it all in post-apocalyptic YA dystopian fiction, along comes The Ship to offer up a little something different. In the near future, Earth has run out of resources, the environment is on the edge of ecological collapse, and civilization itself is in shambles. A man with a vision decides to do something about it, searching high and low for five hundred of Britain’s best and brightest, gathering them all together with the necessary provisions to embark on a long voyage. Nothing too new here, or so I thought. After all, this is pretty much the beginning to every single generation ship story.
Ah, but here’s the rub—there is actually no escape from the mess the world has become. Extreme measures have been taken by the government to ensure the survival of the human race, even if it means disavowing much of its own population. People are made to carry an official ID card on their person at all times. More than just proof of citizenship, these cards are also their lifeline, guaranteeing access to food and shelter. Get on the wrong side of the law, and your card and rights can be summarily stripped from you, leaving you to fend for yourself along with all the other disenfranchised. Most of the time, this is an immediate death sentence, as those who cannot produce their ID card to authorities are often shot on sight. Those who escape notice don’t fare much better either, forced to live in makeshift camps set up in public places like parks and museums, but even that is no longer an option once the government decides their meager existence is a burden to their resources. Thousands die as camps across the country are gassed and razed.
For sixteen-year-old Lalla Paul and her parents, this was the very last straw. Lalla’s father Michael Paul is a former bureaucrat who had used his wealth and influence to purchase a large yacht, outfitting it to carry a few hundred on a sea voyage of indeterminable length. For months, he has been secretly interviewing potential passengers, recruiting those he believes would be an asset for the utopian society he has in mind. Now the ship is ready to sail—and not a moment too soon, with the government cracking down on all kinds of regulations. However, Lalla’s mother is not so ready. A staunch humanitarian, Anna Paul has been taking her daughter almost daily to the British Museum camp to help those who live there, and she is reluctant to go when there is so much more work to be done, not to mention so many they would be leaving behind without hope or salvation.
This was a rather unusual novel, with a fascinating premise. Obviously, time eventually runs out for our characters, and their ship ends up sailing along with its own little utopia on board. Still, things don’t exactly go as planned, and even with everything they could ever want, life aboard the ship is nothing like what you would imagine. Reading about these people who are suddenly cut off from the rest of the world is a bit like stepping into a bubble frozen in time. As one day blends into the next, reality itself begins to lose all meaning for Lalla, and one can’t help but wonder if her father’s dream of a safe future will ever come to pass, or if there is something more sinister afoot.
While the story’s end-of-the-world scenario may be somewhat standard, it does contain a few unique elements to help it stand out. Not surprisingly, it is once we get on the ship that things start to get really interesting. Despite his claims that everything he has ever done is for Lalla, Michael becomes an absent father once they set sail, even as the other passengers start worshipping him with something close to cult-like obsession. Also troubling to Lalla is how everyone around her seems to be perfectly content living in this strange limbo, with no final destination in mind. The result is this palpable, oppressive atmosphere that shrouds the entire novel in a surreal and haunted aura, and if this was what the author had intended, then she most definitely succeeded.
However, The Ship was not without its flaws, and a big one is the protagonist. Privileged but sheltered, Lalla has no inkling of how anything works in the real world and is largely unable to sympathize with the other passengers who have gone through much more persecution and pain. Unfortunately, while on some level I understood this to be an intrinsic part of Lalla’s identity, it didn’t make her naiveté any less maddening. Her failure to mature mentally over the course of the novel was a problem for me, not to mention her complete inability to empathize with others. Even when driven by good intentions, she winds up doing some downright stupid things, which made her character difficult to embrace. Considering how this entire novel is told through her perspective, you can see why I might have struggled with certain parts of the story.
At the end of the day, I found The Ship to be an interesting read, with moments of clever creativity amidst the usual dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction tropes. The story was also well-written and conceptually rich, which makes me all the more regretful that I was unable to fully sympathize with or relate to the main protagonist. My issues with her character aside though, I thought this was a good read overall, with potential appeal to YA speculative fiction readers.