The New World Order
by Ben Jeapes
Review by John Berlyne
Corgi Childrens Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0552550965
Date: 05 January, 2006 List Price £5.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Originally published in hardcover back in November 2004 by David Fickling Books, and aimed largely at the young adult market, Ben Jeapes ambitious tale set in an alternative England at the time of the civil war is now published in mass market by Corgi Books.
The premise of The New World Order is its strongest asset - right at the very point in history when the war between Cromwell's Parliament and the Royalist supporters of Charles I is gathering momentum, events are abruptly interrupted by the arrival of the Holekhor - a humanoid but definitely alien race from some "other" place who arrive in Seventeenth century England through something rather like the Stargate in the film of the same name. The Holekhor bring with them technology that is years, if not centuries ahead of where the English currently are - they have airships and rifles, artillery and steam engines. Consequently the Holekhor invasion changes the priorities of the warring English factions, who, though they may not be able to resolve their considerable differences, nevertheless are forced to somehow find a way to work together.
In charge of the invasion is Dhon Do, a General with an interesting past. He has previously spent time on reconnaissance in England, and during that time quietly converted to Christianity and fallen in love with a native Englishwoman. Unbeknownst to him, a child resulted in this liaison and it is only on his return at the head of the Holekhor invasion force that he finds out he has a son. The son, Daniel, is equally surprised to learn his father is such a powerful and dangerous man - and their relationship is an interesting one. Though the head of "the enemy" Dhon Do is essentially a good man, a man of conscience, and Jeapes successfully navigates the various intricate dilemmas faced by both father and son during their burgeoning relationship.
The wider story is less successful however. Though the basic concept of altering this timeline should result in some interesting consequences, Jeapes has, I think, some trouble with his steering of events. Very quickly the story is simply one of how will this invasion be repelled, with the addition of some inter-personal relationship stuff along the way. The plot element of how the English adapt to and eventually overthrow the Holekhor occupation somehow seems to plateau far too quickly, leaving the reader to slog through the novel until it reaches it's inevitable conclusion. The result is a clunky story and one in which the author never really manages to add much colour to this grey and austere period of history. Similarly, when the story calls for some event necessary to move it on, Jeapes often takes the path of least resistance - Holekhor airships are, it appears, remarkably easy to commandeer and their highly trained and dangerously armed soldiers easily bested by a twelve year old boy. I always feel the best moments in fiction are when characters overcome great odds and solve insurmountable problems more through ingenuity than through luck and happenstance - not so here. Such ease of problem solving quickly robs the reader (even young readers) of their ability and willingness to suspend their disbelief.
My main issue though with The New World Order is with how Jeapes fills his story with the advanced technology of the Holekhor. At the start, we are given the impression that it is only in weaponry that their advantage lies, and that is all well and good. However, any devotee of Sid Meir's Civilization games (or simply of history, for that matter) knows that such advances quickly breed other breakthroughs and societal benefits. Jeapes introduction of technology - really the support system of his entire novel - seems remarkably linear. Later in the book Jeapes briefly mentions wagons powered by engines, and speaker systems at train stations which would imply electricity - yet these major, life changing technological advances are all but glossed over, as if Jeapes' grip on exactly how powerful and advanced his antagonists truly are has not been fully thought through. Additionally there is a sub-plot involving Holekhor clerics that is nothing more than a dead-end.
It may be that my advanced years prohibit me from looking at The New World Order with the appropriate Young Adult sensibilities at which the novel is clearly aimed. But at the same time, I have read equally ambitious YA novels in recent years (for example Philip Reeve's superb Mortal Engines trilogy) and not encountered so many inconsistencies and incongruities. Consequently, in my opinion The New World Order fails to live up to both its premise and its promise and is ultimately something of a disappointment.