The Tube Riders is a book in which several scruffy, disenfranchised youths are the main characters. However, this does not mean that this book would comfortably sit in the young adult category. These kids have a dark background and the author lets the harshness of a cruel future Britain leak through the pages. Rape, prostitution, violence, murder and the omnipotent presence of a government which “disappears” people on a regular basis form the reality in which these teenagers survive – and survive they do. I feel the author offsets this harsh existence by presenting us with a bunch of intelligent, resilient and loyal friends who jump onto moving trains for entertainment. The setting, the form of entertainment and the young protagonists themselves had me hooked from the start. I sometimes felt the author was channelling Michael de Larrabeiti’s Borribles trilogy, one of my favourite journeys into a darker folkloric London.
The action in the first part of the book was gripping. A gang war builds and in escaping, the Tube Riders accidentally discover a secret that could get them killed. And this is where the relentless manhunt across Britain commences. Relentless is a word that so accurately describes the chase itself and the pursuers, a mix of government agents and nightmarish creatures devised in laboratories run by a sadistic government. The author gives us a barrage of perspectives from which to observe the action bouncing from character to character. Sometimes this can be disorientating in a story, but I actually found that it helped flesh out different characters in the novel from the Tube Riders to the Governor himself. Consequently, I felt more invested in the story which can only be a good thing.
It’s important to have disbelief in check throughout this book as the story pushes the boundaries in some places. However, I think the author tries hard to inject credibility. A group of kids can evade an organised manhunt because the country has been restructured to discourage organised movement. The character, Switch, steers our gang all too true, but revelations make sense of his eerily accurate bearings (although this is really pushed to the limit as the story progresses). The man-made paranormals, if I can call them that, are unlikely, but I still had difficulty scoffing and I thought their inclusion made the flight all the more desperate. Then lastly, the success of this self-appointed dictator of Mega Britain seems unsustainable until an equally fantastical explanation makes some sense of it. In any case, I became happy to check my cynicism at the door which means that something had to be working well.
There are several major characters that we spend time with thanks to switching points of view throughout the novel. However, Marta is arguably the principal character of the story. The leader of the Tube Riders remained an interesting blend of resilience and vulnerability to me and in some ways she was a hopeful look at what a teen surviving in such a bleak existence could be. The death of her parents and the disappearance of her brother do not rob her of humanity. She remains fierce, she does what she has to do, but she also remains compassionate and loyal. The Tube Riders become her family, one that she is prepared to fight for.
However, although Marta is the main character, there are more interesting characters in my opinion. The nasty knife-wielding Switch, shows several different shades of colour over the course of the story. Jess is jolted by the horrific death of her parents and transitions from a sheltered, innocent girl through grief and loss into a callous and violent instrument of vengeance. However, most interesting to me is the walking horror that is Dreggo. Part terminator, part crushed spirit I enjoyed watching her battle for her own humanity knowing that there could be no happy ending.
There were a few issues I had with the book, but thankfully not too many. There were a few more errors than I’d like to see but none of them exposed an inability to use the English language. Additionally, I had a bit of an issue with the finale. The action by this stage had become fever pitched and rather absurd, but that wasn’t as much of an issue as it remained immensely entertaining even if possibly pushing that suspension of disbelief a little too far. What bothered me a little was how unresolved the ending was. Because I was on every step of this journey with the protagonists I was invested in their success of failure, but the author left that hanging to some degree, the possibility of a sequel dangling with it. I could understand that it would take far too much at that stage to really provide a conclusion and some hundreds of pages of resolution reduced to a mere epilogue probably would have angered me more, but I couldn’t help but feel a little flat.
My few reservations aside, I enjoyed The Tube Riders a great deal. The author has recently broken up the volume into three parts and I would highly recommend grabbing the first and giving it a try if a 500+ page novel from an indie author seems too high a risk. If you like your action set in a dark and cruel future – and who doesn’t – you owe it to yourself to give this a go.
Price at the time of review: $4.99 US
Author site: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5757409.Chris_Ward
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14121078-the-tube-riders