Feb 22, 2018

Heartsease

by Peter Dickinson

This is the sequel to The Devil's Children, and I'm glad to say the story more or less stands on its own. It's set five years after the Changes which made people in England revolt against technology (some kind of mental sickness) and flee the cities, living in small villages and farming communities while deliberating avoiding modern conveniences. A man from America (unaffected by the Change) who arrived on foreign shores to find out what is going on in England is attacked and stoned for being a "witch". Two young people rescue him in secret. He's severely injured but they hide him in a shed and nurse him back to health with rough care. The kids are gradually becoming disaffected by the Change- the girl Margaret still feels uneasy around machinery but is curiously compelled to visit the empty city and explore. The boy on the farm, Jonathan, is intrigued by machines and good at figuring out how they work. Together they form a plan to get the injured man out of the country. It involves Jonathan manning an old tugboat through the canals while Margaret rides ahead on her pony to open bridges. It has to be secret because the locals are highly suspicious of anything unusual; even their maid's brother Tim, a gentle man with mental disabilities, is at risk of being called a witch and killed by the community simply because he is different. The plot of the rescue mission is really straightforward, what makes this book so much better is how well its characters are written. Jonthan is quick of mind and keen about solving problems, yet totally callous and dismissive of animals- when a pony balks at getting aboard the tug he just says "I hate horses" in disgust. Margaret for her part finds anything remotely mechanical confusing and avoids being around it, but is remarkably patient with the ponies and understands their behavior and needs very well. She's also pretty brave- getting chased by a pack of feral dogs, and baiting an aggressive bull as a diversion during the getaway. They make an interesting contrast and a good team. Too bad there wasn't more of the other characters in the story- the foreigner, the maid and her brother Tim are all interesting people as well. but play minor roles. It was a pretty good read. A few times it seemed like the kids made remarkably complex plans or conveniently drew overly quick conclusions, but I took it in stride to enjoy the story. The ending surprised me somewhat.

Rating: 3/5          189 pages, 1969

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