Seventeen-year-old Christy knows that life is a set of rules, and rules are inherent to survival. The rules of Land decide what colour clothes you must wear. What job you must do. How much food you can eat. Where you can live. How long you can live for.
Rules are not there to be broken. Not in Land.
So when an unexpected path is laid out for Christy, she quickly realises that taking it will have extreme repercussions. This new life – one of danger, that of rebel, spy, lover and assassin – will mean choosing death.
What initially drew me to Alex Campbell’s debut Land was its setting. Land is set in the closed community of Land, a walled-off island somewhere in Europe, surrounded by water after the majority of earth has been submerged by a major flood. Living in a country where much of the land was hard-won from the water and where dikes and dams are what keep our feet dry in the western part of the country, this is a catastrophe that is very much a real probability, even if most likely on a smaller scale. As such, Land’s setting intrigued me and I was curious to see how Campbell would use it to create her dystopian society.
Land’s is a dystopian future that has some eerie echoes of the past. Campbell utilises some of the most dreadful atrocities of the past to illustrate the malignant nature of Land’s regime. While I found her construction of Land fascinating, there were some elements that really made me uncomfortable. Mostly these were elements reminiscent of the Holocaust and while they certainly worked to drive the point home, I found the clear allusion to what is still one of the greatest atrocities in history in a work that doesn’t actually discuss it discomfiting. This is probably very much a personal reaction though and might not be as disturbing for most people.
Campbell creates a classic dystopia with Land’s police state, where people are strictly sorted into one of three classes based on ability and descent. The have-nots may rise to the governing classes through intellectual capabilities, but the haves will always remain in the upper echelons, unless they rebel against the state’s edicts and ideologies. Campbell has thought through the consequences of a limited amount of space and resources well and uses them to create some scary rules for the people of Land, which in a twisted way also make sense. For example, the government-selected pairings and the ban on any non-state-approved or out-of-wedlock procreation. On the one hand, it is a sound ecological, biological and economical strategy to limit population growth, yet it also smacks of eugenics and feels wrong and oppressive.
All of this serves as a backdrop for Christy’s tale. The daughter of a known dissident and somewhat of an outsider, at seventeen Christy doesn’t actually expect to be selected for a Pairing. So when she’s not only Paired, but to the son of one of the more powerful families of Land, no one is more surprised than Christy. I really liked Christy as a main character. She’s capable, stubborn and brave, with a strong sense of loyalty to those she cares about. First and foremost, this means her grandmother Cons and her best friend Kara. And later comes to encompass her mentor One, his assistant Salinger, and her Pair Tobin. Christy will risk everything for them, even her own life and the future of Land. While I liked the characters a lot, many of the secondary characters such as Cons, Kara, and Tobin remain a little flat. They have their hopes and dreams, but there doesn’t really seem to be a progression to these, or if there is it’s a very minor one. This in contrast to Christy, One, and Salinger, who are all three well-developed and three-dimensional. Through Cons, One, and Salinger Christy is drawn into an underground movement who struggles against Land’s regime and the story focusses on Christy’s gradual conviction that this is something she has to fight for, she needs to fight for because it’s the right thing to do.
Land was a fascinating read, with a lot of meat on its bones to talk over after reading, but it was also a pulse-pounding adventure and at times heart-breaking. With the caveats described above, I really enjoyed it and the book has stuck with me long after turning the last page. With Land Campbell has delivered a strong debut novel and I look forward to reading more by her in the future.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.