Review of Battle Ground by Rachel Churcher

Sixteen-year-old Bex Ellman has been drafted into an army she doesn’t support and a cause she doesn’t believe in. Her plan is to keep her head down, and keep herself and her friends safe – until she witnesses an atrocity she can’t ignore, and a government conspiracy that threatens lives all over the UK. With her loyalties challenged, Bex must decide who to fight for – and who to leave behind.

The Battle Ground series is set in a dystopian near-future UK, after Brexit and Scottish independence.

Battle Ground is a story that immediately resonated with me as a huge fan of Dystopia and especially to have one in an UK, near future setting ticked so many boxes. To start with I was so happy that the Author had put a pronunciation guide at the FRONT of the book, so often these are at the end and then I find out I’ve been saying something wrong in my head for hundreds of pages!  With the UK on the verge of martial law everything feels very bleak, empty and cold. The very stark “them and us” feel apparent from the opening pages as we get drips and drops of information which starts to paint a picture of where we are at and with a bombshell that the UK has returned to the death penalty the reader is under no illusion that things are far from well.

Bex is a great protagonist and ticks very few of the YA heroine tick boxes, she not all about running into danger without a backward glance for others, she seldom if ever mentions her appearance, if only to lament her “front line barbie” moniker, and it’s not about catching the eye of a cute boy. Bex has a strong morality and a curiosity about what is going on and it’s amazing to have a book where a romantic element isn’t the ultimate goal. She questions and is open to suggestion that there has to be some way of making things better.

With chapters heavy on military training, I liked how the author took the time to remind us that Bex is still very much a child underneath. The passages where we return to the school setting and her finding joy in the simpler things, the mundane such as homework really brought home her plight and those of the others. It’s one of many frightening near life scenarios that we are shown in this tale, children “enlisted” giving them little to no choice or say in the matter, made horribly parallel scenario to the drafting of the first and second world wars. The whole training camp had an uncomfortable feel with very little sympathy, but plenty of brainwashing and propaganda feeding. The concept of forcing the humanity out of the children, encouraging them to abandon anyone other than themselves, is a distressing idea. The indication that caring for someone is somehow obtuse in an environment that breeds disassociation from what they may have to do as part of the “greater good” all whilst putting on a good show for the camera’s, is one of many difficult topics the author covers and it is done incredibly well.

Whilst the start is a teeny tiny bit slow with the recruitment and training aspect, it’s still captivating and knowing that these are rapid release books means that there will be pay off from establishing the world building in this book. I did find that I struggled with how quickly Bex gained the military prowess displayed towards the closing chapters but then adrenaline probably speaks for a lot, but it was the only time that I felt the story stepped outside of what could actually happen.

There are obvious connotations with the current political climate, which is clear when reading the blurb – whichever side of the fence you are on, this book isn’t preaching about that, it’s putting across a scenario and a pretty great one at that. The story contains enough of current and recent affairs to give it a realistic turn without specifying enough to date it in future, especially with the imaginative combination of guns and armour which had an almost sci-fi feel at times. This coupled with the weaponry makes it feel like it might not be quite just around the corner, but in these uncertain times, who knows.

I’m very much looking forward to book 2 and give book one a very strong 4*

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