The UnTied Kingdom by Kate Johnson is a book I came across while browsing through books published by ChocLit, of which I've recently read and enjoyed a few. They tend to be quite low priced on Kindle, and at under £2 I thought that The UnTied Kingdom sounded interesting enough to be worth a go.
Eve Carpenter, formerly famous, is having a bad day; she falls into the Thames while paragliding, part of a stunt for a new TV show, yet when she comes to after being pulled from the river, nothing seems right. She's in London, but now England is a third world country fighting a civil war. The history that Eve knows never happened, and she ends up captive of a small group of soldiers, led by the annoying and rude Major Harker, taken on a mission for her knowledge of computers, one of which they hope to capture (rare things in this alternate world).
On the whole, the story of The UnTied Kingdom is reasonably predictable. You can anticipate the broad course of the story, especially the romance, and you can have a good idea of the ending. Yet it is still exciting, and still has plenty of surprises. The setting is different to that of any chick lit I've read. The phrase "dystopian chick lit" is used in a review quoted on Amazon, and this is fairly accurate.To also be fair to Johnson though, there is more than just a romance set in a dystopian setting; the war is very much a part of it too, and keeps you on your toes, wondering how things will turn out. The relationships between characters often take a backseat as they fight for their lives.
Eve is a good heroine for the story, although she was really dim about things at times. Both in terms of the romance and for taking ages to cotton to the fact that the people she is now surrounded by know nothing of the world she knows. She keeps talking about it, mentioning technology or culture for example, and then seems surprised when no one knows what she's on about.
Harker is a good leading man, not your usual suave and perfect chick lit heroine, but a real man who's lived through war, and who is far from perfect.He's a little more switched on than Eve, which meant I enjoyed his side of the story a bit more.
Johnson's writing is good, and she makes good use of the unusual setting. The locations and battle scenes are portrayed very well, and are easy to picture. She is also very good at a cliffhanger - she keeps you hanging on for the ending, and makes you doubt what you had previously thought was inevitable.
It may not be a work of great depth, and it may not measure up to the great dystopian novels, but The UnTied Kingdom is an enjoyable read which offers more than the usual chick lit fluffiness.
Eve Carpenter is having a very bad day, and it is about to get worse. She comes round from a paragliding accident but everything is rather strange. Although she's still in London, this is a city and a world she hardly recognises. There is just enough that is familiar to be totally confusing. In this world, England is a backward country with a population kept too busy fighting in a civil war to do much else. She is taken captive by a small group of soldiers who take her marching across the country with them. The leader, Major Harker, is obnoxious and scruffy, and is convinced Eve is a spy, or perhaps she is just mad. While they apparently speak the same language, they struggle to understand each other - their worlds are so different.
The Untied Kingdom is an unusual combination of genres - a dystopian chicklit novel, as much a war and adventure story as a romance (not just a romance with a war setting). I quickly got caught up in the problems facing Eve and Harker and the other soldiers. The strongly drawn characterisation and lively narrative and dialogue is key to this.
Back in her own world, Eve had a career as a pop star but things went badly wrong and she was down on her luck - her paragliding attempt was part of an appearance on a reality TV show for ex-celebrities. She is opinionated and always willing to argue her corner, even when doing so gets her into trouble. She is willing to learn about the world she has found herself in and she comes to care about Harker, especially, and the others around her. She is brave. Reading this made me think that there aren't enough adventure stories for women, and with strong heroines. Harker is abrasive and rude, but he works hard to look after the bunch he leads. As the story developed, he grew on me just as he did on Eve.
I was impressed by the balance that Kate Johnson keeps between the different aspects of her novel. She maintains the adventure story even as a romance develops. However, it is not just an exciting romantic adventure story with a straightforward happy ending to come. Like many more literary war stories, the novel is quite critical of war, mostly using Eve's comments as a way of expressing views. The fighting has had a devastating effect on the lives of the soldiers. Eve doesn't really understand what the soldiers are fighting for, and Harker never really gives her a satisfactory explanation - does he know himself? The story also shows the effects of war in quite a realistic manner, such as real people being hurt and killed in a very unpleasant way.
Something else I found interesting in this novel was the exploration of an alternate world without the technology we have become so reliant on, where electricity and landline telephones are luxuries which only the super rich can afford and only stronger military powers have equipment like computers.
This review first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk and I received a free review copy
Published April 2011, 384 pp
RRP: £7.99; Amazon £6.12, ebook just £2.14