Following on from my last “5 Reasons” review of Nikesh Shukla’s Run Riot is another politically relevant Young Adult novel. Night of the Party is set in a near future, post-Brexit UK (England). Elections are looming. The ruling political party, sinisterly called “The Party,” are slated to be destroyed at the polls. A few weeks before, two people meet, seemingly by chance on a crowded tube. Their destinies are entwined, joined back before the novel started, at a party of a very different kind.
Night of the Party is a thoughtful thriller, one that asks its readers to imagine how easy the slide into a police state might be. Here are five reasons why you (and your kids) should read it.
1. The Scary Dystopia
There are a lot of dystopian visions around these days. Ever since The Hunger Games and possibly before, they’re big money in publishing circles. I’ve read few as bone-gnawingly plausible as the one outlined in Night of the Party.
Events are set in the UK, a few years from now, post-Brexit. Britain’s exodus from the EU allowed a deeper mistrust of outsiders to foment, a mistrust capitalized on by politicians to take things further. A “British Born” policy has been introduced, where anybody not born in the UK will be expelled. Failing to report an illegal is a crime, giving rise to a police state where mistrust is rife. The undercurrent of the novel is inward-looking mistrust. Racism, fueled by England’s colonial-era superiority complex, is backed up by the state.
The scariest thing about The Night of the Party is that some of its events and actions seem inseparable from what’s happening today. Detainment centers where people are stuck in limbo at the whim of the state, cults of personality where facts are irrelevant and dissenters belittled, and populist politicians happy to use any tactic to advance their own career. All of these things appear in the novel.
Without much extrapolation Mathias demonstrates that these are circumstances in which bad things can happen.
2. The Sense of Creeping Dread
Against this backdrop, Night of the Party starts with a sense of optimism. Change is in the wings. As we move through the story doubt creeps in. Power is not easily relinquished. Propaganda is easy to swallow. Might the unthinkable happen again? A palpable feeling of dread crept over me as I read Night of the Party. I found it impossible to put down. Despite arriving back from holiday in the small hours of the morning, I couldn’t go to bed until I knew how it ended.
3. Lo-Octane Thrills
Night of the Party is a thriller, but it is not a loud explosions, fast car chases, people charging about with guns type thriller. It’s slower and more human than that. There is surveillance and being on the run. There is looking over one’s shoulder. There is palpable tension. This is built up using small things like suspecting you’ve been spotted by a nosy neighbor, the possibility of a random stop and search, or trying to get petrol without being seen by CCTV. This all adds to the novel’s sense of dread.
4. The Intertwining Plot Threads
Arguably, the scary dystopia built by an all too believable fascist state isn’t the novel’s overarching storyline. There’s a second arc about a death at a party some two years before the main events of the novel. The title Night of the Party carries the weight of two meanings. Two characters in the book are connected through the death of Sophie. One, her brother, the other, her friend. Between them, they can discover the truth, but not if the system tears them apart first.
The two threads intertwine without a seam. The dread of the dystopia and the fear that the system may prevent the characters from finding answers they need is crushing at times.
5. It Doesn’t Take the Obvious Narrative Path
Night of the Party did not go the way I was expecting it to. About halfway through it feels like Mathias is setting the story to go in a certain direction, but with deft sleight of hand, she points her readers somewhere else entirely. This culminates in a deliciously lo-octane pursuit of truth and freedom.
Mathias’s brilliantly realized teenaged protagonists, (Did I mention one was a math prodigy? Another glorious geek dimension.) live in a terrifyingly plausible dystopia. Social commentary about the perils of isolation and the need for tolerance is combined with a tense whodunit to make a glorious whole. Night of the Party is an excellent novel for politically aware teens. It shows the importance of being switched on to events around you. In addition to a thrilling story and that sense of icy dread, is the message never to take for granted your freedom or the freedom of those around you. Highly recommended.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my other 5 Reasons to Read posts here.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.