Bloody War, by Terry Grimwood
Bloody War begins with a superb premise: our hero wakes up to find Britain has been at war for the past 18 months. He has no memory of this or even how the war started, and his gradual realisation of how ordinary life has been grossly skewed seeps through the pages to the reader. In the first chapters the war seems horrifyingly plausible. Grimwood understands how (for the most part), our population’s experience of war is through the sterilising filter of television and happening somewhere very different and distant. The first glimpse we have of smoke rising from suburbs across the Capital seems equally sanitised through glass, but now the screens are the blast-taped windows of the office and home. Certainly, the British seem to have reverted to the Blitz spirit carrying on regardless, but what makes Pete question his sanity is their calm, unquestioning acceptance of what is happening.
The war quickly invades his life. Rationing is back, curfew is in force, and everywhere secret police silence dissent. Men in fluorescent yellow jackets become ubiquitous, heralding another bombing by the unseen enemy, and if that wasn’t enough, the war then takes direct action against our hero and his complacent family. Pete is caught in the middle of an attack, and learns his son is due to be drafted to the front-line that devours men and women mercilessly.
Pete is a fine hero; an everyman driven by righteous anger and the compassion to protect not just himself or his family, but anyone he can. His understanding that he is risking his own safety trying to do what is right and just – and suffering accordingly – resonates with the reader. He is far from perfect and when his courage is tested it sometimes wavers, the reader is silently asked whether they would do the same, making this reviewer really care for his fate.
The plot strides with perfectly judged pace, the tension and horror escalating from scene to scene, but in all this is a bleak read. The characters are displaced and attacked, displaced and attacked throughout the novel, and while they nurture vague hopes of escape we understand they are likely to be futile. While convention demands that our hero survive till at least the last page, other characters have no such luxury.
All of which harries the reader through the pages as much as Pete is pushed and pulled through the war-torn country, although once he leaves the Capital the book does feel more familiar. Possibly this is because the ground for this type of fiction has been dug-up as much as the endless battlefields in the novel, but the nature of the enemy wasn’t a surprise, and this reviewer didn’t agree with the easy capitulation of the people of this nation, given how the British have a long history of fighting in the name of fairness and democracy. Also unanswered is the fate of the rest of the world, and this omission is conspicuous by its absence. Readers will no doubt be reminded of 1984, and the blurb on the back of the book acknowledges this debt. Bloody War reads almost as a companion piece, although the reworked themes of the original seem diluted and less likely in an age of mass media and global internet access, although the notion of “Big Brother” is continued in a darkly amusing way, taking its inspiration from the modern version of the idea seeded from Orwell’s creation.
The blurb on the back promises a modern cautionary tale, and while the author never feels this was fully plausible, Bloody War twists the near future into a stark and terrifying prospect that will engross and affect the reader by turns.