Sharp North (2004) and its sequel Blown Away (2005) are set in Great Britain in a post-climate change world a couple of centuries or more in our future. Due to rising temperature there has been increased ice melt which has caused widespread flooding as sea levels rise. There have also been profound changes in the weather and climate due to the changed salinity of the ocean which has caused the warm ocean current that comes across Atlantic from Central America to fail. As a result, Northern Europe experienced a sharp drop in temperature, even as global warming continued to affect the rest of the world. The narrative however begins sometime after this ice age, when temperatures in Northern Europe has begun to rise in line with the rest of the world.
Scotland is one of the few places where the ice and snow remains. Here, we are introduced to the protagonist Mira, a young girl living in a remote village. Heading out to run, something she does often, Mira sees a young woman who approaches her, but before she can speak she is run down and shot by grey-clad strangers. While the incident is dismissed by Gil, her friend and guardian, she later finds a screwed-up ball of paper which has a list of names, including her own, and Gil’s, who is listed as her ‘watcher’. The novel follows Mira’s journey as she sets out to learn her true identity and that of the mysterious woman.
Although the novel doesn’t really offer a critique of climate change, the consequences of this environmental disaster form the fundamental context of the story. Technology and fossil fuels are scarce and precious, widespread flooding and unpredictable weather has displaced the populations of cities and towns, and limited resources are hoarded by the wealthy and powerful. For the purposes of the novel, the most significant outcome has been the introduction of embryo screening and the development of cloning. Screening leads to the division of the general populace into the wealthier and more superior ‘Visions’ and the inferior, naturally-conceived ‘Scroats’. Meanwhile, by cloning exceptional human beings with ‘superior’ attributes, the powerful families maintain their control over the general population. The tensions and power struggles between these families and the ‘Fertility Board’ are the main source of conflict in the novel as Mira discovers that she is one of these clones.
The sequel, Blown Away, continues the story of Mira’s sister-clone, Adeline as well as following the ongoing political conflict in the city. It also interweaves a backstory of the origin of the cloning process, introducing us to the original human beings from which Adeline and other characters in the narrative were cloned. However, the eventual coming together of the two stories wasn’t really explained, and although I appreciated the effort to interweave past and present, it didn’t seem to have a significant purpose. Unfortunately, many of the questions left unanswered in the first narrative were not answered in the sequel, which ended up reading as a rather disappointing spin-off of the Hunger Games.
Overall, Sharp North was an enjoyable read with plenty of twists and turns, even if the narrative itself wasn’t always well-written and the plot had numerous holes. I was disappointed that the characters motivations weren’t better developed, and I did feel that the character of Jan was a little two dimensional. Although the novel certainly belongs to the genre of dystopian fiction, I wouldn’t say it’s a good dystopian novel and any political or social critique that can be drawn from the narrative is limited.