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Steeple is the sequel to Jon Wallace's Barricade, if you haven't yet read that the review can be found here. Please note that spoilers for Barricade may be found below.
Steeple begins not long after the end of Barricade and we meet Kenstibec in the middle of a raid - surprisingly he is now working with Reals. This is due to Kenstibec and Fatty now living in a human settlement ruled by Clive, the self proclaimed King of Kent. Kenstibec, after the events of Barricade, no longer has access to his nanotech which means that he is unable to heal himself and is susceptible to the diseases and health risks that plague this post-apocalyptic world.
This is the closest Kenstibec has ever come to being Real and he is not happy with this situation but will go along with Fatty’s plan of hiding in plain sight as he has no wish to die. With the help of Fatty, who was born with the gift of the gab, Kenstibec is learning to pass as Real using the abbreviated name of Ken, but the threat of discovery hangs over his head. Kenstibec is growing bored of the daily life of Reals and after a chance conversation with Fatty they both end up on a fool’s errand to infiltrate the largest and newest tower built in London before the bomb was dropped, in the hopes that there is a large amount of gold to be found at the tower’s summit.
Fatty and Ken are joined on their journey by Bridget, an outsider in Clive’s settlement. Bridget is fairly annoying throughout the book as she is quite ineffective when action is needed. She is not the sharpest tool in the box and she manages to continually get the small group in trouble after she finds out that Ken is not as Real as she thought he was. By the end of Steeple Bridget does grow on you slightly but she is unfortunately the third wheel in this odd group.
Throughout Steeple we see Kenstibec becoming frustrated by the fact that he is becoming more Real. He denies that there are feelings and connections being made between himself and the other characters but this is shown most clearly in his relationship with Pistol, the Ficial dog he finds during a raid. Kenstibec continually grows as a character during his adventures with Fatty and Bridget and this makes him easier to relate to in comparison with his character in Barricade.
Each chapter of Steeple begins with Kenstibec’s earliest memories after he is released from Control's compound to begin his first job with Diorama. This job was to design and help build a giant tower which was needed to help with the population increase in London due to an influx of refugees. These short bursts of memory are really useful to the overall story and fill in some gaps in Kenstibec’s history.
Kenstibec has ulterior motives for wanting to see if the tower built on hope is still standing. It is fun to see Kenstibec becoming more devious as he learns from Fatty to bend the truth. In some ways Fatty and Ken have become a comedy double act, each using the other for their own purposes.
What Kenstibec, Fatty, Bridget and Pistol experience on their way to the top of the tower is intense, they have to face many trials and are continually having to fight for their lives. Steeple shows us how completely society broke down before the bomb was dropped. Death and destruction have followed Kenstibec wherever he has been and continues to follows wherever he goes. Kenstibec is a singular character, he can never be called a nice guy, but for someone with a massive superiority complex having been knocked off his pedestal, he shows that he is the beating heart of this story.
Steeple exceeds the first volume of its trilogy in terms of character and plot. It is fast paced with a lot of interesting action set pieces, but it also gives us the time to find out a lot more information about the word before the events in Barricade. Steeple is focused on a smaller geographical area than Barricade and this gives us a better understanding of what is left of the human population and the everyday world that they have to live in. Steeple has really left me wondering what chaos Kenstibec will bring to the third book and Jon Wallace’s imagination has shown me that if the sky’s the limit, Kenstibec will find a way to bust through it.
Review by Michelle Herbert
Jon Wallace is a science fiction author based in London, England. His debut novel, "Barricade", is published on June 19 2014 from Gollancz. A review of that book can be read here.Michelle Herbert spoke with Jon a we [...]
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