Fiction Reviews


(2023) Eva Smith, Orenda Books, £9.99, pbk, 341pp, ISBN 978-1-914-58524-6


This is a pacy genre-crossing thriller – part detective story, part sci-fi, mainly adventure romp with characters chasing down secrets and avoiding a huge array of bad guys intent on concealing the truth.

The setup is that in a near-future world the population is soaring, but global warming is creating a migrant crisis as many flee increasingly uninhabitable countries. In response, the authoritarian regime now in charge in the UK adopts a one child policy, rigidly and brutally enforced, accompanied by compulsory sterilisation of the surge of migrants fleeing climate catastrophe. By the time the story opens that policy’s been around for a generation, but in a new twist fertility rates have begun to fall alarmingly too. We follow Kai, a firm believer in the draconian policy, who works for the somewhat Orwellian Ministry of Population and Family Planning. She’s a ‘baby reaper’, which is as bad as it sounds. But Kai uncovers something that makes it all very personal, and with her family under threat and a secret sister that may just be hers she starts to question everything, and the plot descends into an overlapping mix of conspiracies, secrets and suppression.

And all written in a staccato, Dan Brown style.

Short sentences.

In short paragraphs.

Full of breathless action.

Raising the stakes.


You just.


To scream.

Actually it’s not quite that bad. There are some longer sentences (even whole paragraphs sometimes), but you get the picture.

But is it any good? It has pace and energy, some interesting, compromised characters and some plausible science, though I did not quite buy into the premise and the denouement was too tidy for me. It is certainly competent, though; easy to read and engaging. It doesn’t break new ground –P.J. James’ Children of Men and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are the standout fertilisation crisis novels, and the population explosion was the staple of many a fifties sci-fi tale. I have not seen the two – demography and climate crisis – tackled together though. It is an interesting juxtaposition, and it raises a few intriguing ethical questions (infertility strikes the migrants and the poor hardest – can it be entirely coincidental?), but the action-novel format doesn’t leave room for a proper reflection on the issues sprinkled throughout. Plus, it muddles the narrative (is this story about too many babies or not enough?).

It is a chilling dystopia though. Some aspects, such as the totalitarian state and the inhumane treatment of immigrants feel entirely plausible (if, hopefully, unlikely). This is a Britain of the Far Right: closed off, repressive, controlling. But it’s a Britain that plainly doesn’t work. Politicians take note!

Mark Bilsborough


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