“Irish Carraig” by Jo Zebedee

Wow! One of the most riveting books I’ve read in a while! In a near-future post-apocalyptic Northern Ireland (already a bit of a post-apocalyptic place in real life), teenage orphan John Dray agrees to run an errand for a local ganglord in exchange for food–only to discover after the fact that the errand was to release a viral bomb that takes out the entire population of the Zelotyr, aliens who have invaded and conquered Earth to escape their own, overheating planet. It seems that John is a hero…or a genocidal terrorist…in any case, he ends up in a special prison run by the Barath’na, the OTHER, supposedly good, aliens who have an interest in Earth. Only things aren’t quite as they seems…

All the main characters are fully realized and sympathetic, and the action moves along quickly, keeping the tension level high–I could barely stand to put the book down! There are a number of parallels between the plot and real events, some of which are made explicit (Stormont is mentioned; John worries that his orange prison garb is supposed to mark him as a Protestant), and some of which are left implicit–e.g., global warming, the choice between collaboration with the invading force or rebellion and terrorism. These serve to enhance the richness of the story and ground it in historical details that make the characters’ moral struggles more real: both/neither are good choices, depending on circumstances, and all have consequences for the characters.

My main complaint about the book was that there wasn’t a huge amount of detail about the aliens: we only sort of know what the Zelotyr look like, and there are a few suggestive details about them, such as that they apparently feed off of human sewage, but there is no explanation of why, since surely they had no access to it on their home planet. However, these are minor quibbles; overall, this is an exciting, tightly plotted addition to the genre of dystopian SF, and well worth reading.

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