5 Reasons to Read ‘Run Riot’ by Nikesh Shukla

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Run Riot Nikesh ShuklaRun Riot by Nikesh Shukla, is a work of young adult fiction set in modern, urban Britain. It’s a hard-hitting politically-charged novel that draws on the poor treatment of Britain’s immigrant population, and the manner in which the nation’s middle classes fearfully view them. Coming after the terrible events of the Grenfell Tower fire and ahead of the uncertainty of Brexit, Run Riot is timely and enlightening. Here are five reasons why you should read it.

1: It’s Written in Real Time.

Or so it says on the cover. This claim isn’t quite accurate. The timeline jumps a little, and there is a little bit of character reminiscence in the narrative, but the bulk of the Run Riot’s events occur over the course of one evening. This propels the reader along at breakneck speed.

The novel opens with the witness of a murder, with that witness having filmed the attack. An attack perpetrated by two members of the police force. What follows is the story of the witness trying to avoid capture and whether he and a group of his friends can bring the killers to justice.

2: It’s About Real People.

Run Riot is set in the UK, but it’s not a UK I know anything about. I’m roughly thirty years older than its protagonists and my life has been significantly more comfortable than theirs. I have no experience of living in the conditions in which this novel is set, nor living as a non-white in modern Britain. Yet I haven’t read a novel that felt this real, this in touch with post-Brexit Britain. The characters in this book feel like real people and not middle-class constructs.

By coincidence, whilst reading Run Riot, I also happened to read The Amber Spyglass: a book I remember very much enjoying 20-odd years ago when I first read it.

Time has done The Amber Spyglass no favors.

I’m not sure if its because I’m 20 years-older or because I have a family, or because the world seems a darker less-friendly place, but The Amber Spyglass felt like the limp simperings of a middle-class academic. His pontifications on the existence of god and the bigotry of organized religion felt like a pointless tantrum. (It may also be that I’m a lot more involved with organized religion myself these days, not as a believer, but as part of pastoral, social, and community care. The existence or lack thereof of God comes across as entirely irrelevant to the good work my friends do.)

Compare this to the characters in Run Riot. Yes, its still a story, but this is a story that asks important questions about the way we live. It shines a light on injustices that are going on right now. (I’m not sure when this novel was written in relation to the terrible events of the Grenfell Tower fire, but the revelations in the book feel all the more real, in its wake). The characters in Run Riot have hopes and dreams that may or may not be realized, but it is not a celestial being that will shape their lives, but something far closer to home. The UK government, police force, and media.

3: It Humanizes People Who are Often Dehumanized.

The novel is set on an inner-city estate. (Exactly where, is deliberately left opaque {unless I missed it}, adding to the sense that this story that could happen anywhere in Britain.) The story takes place in a setting that many middle-Englanders see as no-go zones; violent hot-beds of crime and drugs.

People who have no voice are easier to demonize. Sections of the British media have been making a mint from this fact for decades, and nobody calls them on it. Their coverage of knife-crime, poverty, and terrorism is more often than not shameless scaremongering, that preys on the ignorant fears of its readers. Why bother becoming informed, when somebody is spoon feeding you what you want to hear?

Which is why the world needs novelists like Nikesh Shukla and novels like Run Riot. Shukla, editor of The Good Immigrant, is a pivotal proponent of helping minority voices be heard amongst the deluge of white writers. His novel does not sugar-coat the difficulties of living in city apartment block, nor does it attempt to deny that there aren’t issues with crime, but it offers alternative stories to the ones we usually hear.

It shows the sense of community, the people who go above and beyond to help others; those that stand up to both the crime around them and the oppression from a biased system. Run Riot, depicts its characters as real people, not caricatures. It shows their human side; the problems they have to deal with. It does not show them as knife-wielding devils in hoodies, as sections of the UK press would have you believe them be.

4: It Skewers the Problems of Gentrification.

Gentrification: a millennial word if ever there was one. A good thing surely? Money flooding into an area largely ignored for decades. Run Riot offers a flip-side to the argument. This book is fiction, and Shukla is clearly trying to make his point, so some of what he writes must be taken in that context, but the novel shows how gentrification benefits many people, but it is rarely the people who currently live in the area.

Run Riot examines gentrification. How the investment of money to bring in more affluent residents relies on the relocation of the current ones. Notwithstanding the dodgy tactics outlined in the book, what does gentrification really mean for already existing communities? Are they scattered once the hipsters move in? Shukla looks at the real problem of communities being dislocated, as places families have lived in for generations become too expensive for them to continue to do so.

5: It’s Thrilling.

Politics aside…the real reason Run Riot is such a great book is that it’s absolutely thrilling from first page until last. This is in part due to the real-time nature of the story. Things build up a head of steam very quickly. The villains and heroes of the piece are very clear and we very quickly find ourselves rooting for the heroes of the hour. The characters are very engaging, meaning we immediately empathize with their plight. We desperately need them to succeed, and each pitfall along the way is like a punch in the gut.

The TL;DR

Run Riot is an engaging urban thriller that gives a voice to characters rarely represented in stories. It gives a compassionate voice to those more often vilified in the popular press. It does have a political bias, but within that framework delivers thrills and spills aplenty. With strong characters, tight plotting, and with its narrative written in real-time, Run Riot is a special book indeed.

You can buy Run Riot here, in the UK and here, in the US.

If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other 5 Reasons to Read posts.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. 

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