The first book I read in 2017 was Fearless by Tim Lott. For my Reading Challenge, this completes #25 A book by an author you’ve never read before.
What’s it About?
Fearless is the story of a young girl living in the City Community Faith School, also known as the Institute. The outside world thinks it’s full of young girls learning how to be better people and play a positive role in society. Instead they are treated badly, forced to work hard and live in rough conditions.
Each girl only has a number, no name, so among themselves they name each other based on their characteristics; Stargazer, Beauty, Tattle and the main character Little Fearless.
The plot revolves around Little Fearless as she decides she needs to get her and her friends out of the institute and help everyone find their families.
Themes in Fearless
In style it’s part dystopian sci-fi and part fairy tale.
The speed with which the plot moves on and certain repeating images throughout the book make it reminiscent of the original fairy tales by the Grimm brothers. There’s not a huge amount of time dedicated to overly complex description and it’s more about the actions of characters that what they’re thinking and feeling at any point.
‘this journey is part of my story, and you cannot escape your own story, because it is who you are. Knowing is not in the head. It is not thought, or explained, but felt in your bones, and your muscles and your blood and your guts.’ – p.175
Certain motifs recur throughout, for example, there are very obvious moments when the choice will lead Little Fearless down one path or another. There are these dichotomies between good / evil, master / slave, the right / wrong thing to do; for example, twice Little Fearless has to choose whether to get on a bus and go to the Sunlands where she can be free, or get in the Laundry Van and sneak back into the Institute. In the beginning these overtly contrasting images are very reminiscent of fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, however towards the end these start to get broken down and we realise that not everything is quite so black and white and no people are ever completely good or bad; a concept which is popular in dystopian fiction.
In terms of being a piece of dystopian fiction it hits the spot with a few key themes and images. There’s a dictator-like leader who fools the public into trusting him completely, a rebel leader which the whole population fears, a group of people oppressed and controlled through (at one point) their identity and individuality being taken away, and an attempt to rebel and question authority.
‘How do I know it? Well…I know it because…because… everybody knows it.’ – p.150
What Did I Think?
Fearless is not a bad book. It’s a pretty good one actually, there’s a lot I liked but there’s also a few things I wish had been changed or expanded on a little…
I like Little Fearless as a character; she’s not over developed or too deep but she’s your typical fairy tale hero who has an idea for something she wants to achieve and sticks to it no matter what.
But there’s a few things I feel are missing from the story. In the beginning we never really get told why the Institute is so bad. I mean we get told it is bad but we’re never really shown it. Again, this is a bit of a feature of the original fairy tales but it’s not quite what we’re used to in contemporary literature; these days we want to figure out how we feel about characters and situations for ourselves, not be told who to hate and who to root for.
Similarly while some parts of the book fall short in terms of describing certain situations or how characters feel, others go way in depth and OTT:
‘When Little Fearless looked up, with no artificial light to cloud her vision, she could see great clusters of stars glittering in the sky. Stargazer, who knew about the heavens, had once told her that they pumped out starlight and gravity in vast, everlasting waves that moved planets and filled the universe, holding it all together in an infinite, beautiful and ever-expanding web. Little Fearless felt a shiver of terror at the vastness of it all, then a ripple of ecstasy at its mystery and beauty. She suddenly felt that she wasn’t outside it, looking heavenwards, but the heavens were some how inside her. That her skin was not a barrier to everything but a bridge linking her to all that there was. All things were one thing; and all events, one event. She felt that she was part of an infinite unfolding that was complete and perfect.’ – p.110
In some ways I kind of like it, in others I’m not sure.
The end of the book definitely got better; we learnt a little more about the society as a whole and how it functions and in one line Lott captured the cattiness of girls perfectly:
‘”I mean, she’s my friend and all. I’m not attacking her, or anything.” / Then she attacked her. ‘ – p. 168
In this last part he also managed to raise some interesting questions and ideas about politics and society without being too preachy or obvious.
Overall, I’d say it’s a good book and I enjoyed it although I can’t help but feeling that it didn’t quite live up to it’s potential. It had a wonderful premise and I feel he could have done a little more with it. That said, I think he set out to do what he wanted to do: write a piece of modern dystopian fiction, with a political message, in the style of an old fairy tale.
My Rating: 6/10
Books Reading this Year: 1 / 100
Challenges Completed: 1 / 30