Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.
Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.
When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.
Regular readers of this humble blog will no doubt have read a review – or four – of Nick’s previous books or most likely have viewed his blog. Knight in Paper Armor is his latest novel and, in my opinion, is not only the most ambitious but also the maturest of his work to date.
Night in Paper Armor is a multi-layered work, its sinister overtones are pitched perfectly for a dystopia, which has plenty of the real world feel – both past and present – and chillingly explores a logical conclusion to which the world could find itself moving towards if it stays on its current trajectory. Adding in a bit of the psychic spices up an already interesting science fiction premise and adds more speculations for the reader to muse upon.
From an early glimpse of a child’s creepy drawings to the ethics of science and the horrors it can inflict in its quest to help people – and be profitable – the real and those things unseen come together perfectly to ooze a strong sense of unease. It is a great start, and maintains that subtle intensity throughout, whilst slowly building on those ideas and themes and adding in a strong dose of the human, the personal and potential.
Despite the nature of the politics resonating from the here and now, this book has helped shake a general lack of apathy to reading that I have found of late, the main reason for this are the characters, how they are introduced and the way their lives are portrayed throughout the story. There are several set pieces which manage to cut through the atmosphere of terror and pain and really resonated with me. The change in tone and the depictions of the mood of hope and happiness brought a smile to my face more than once.
Reading this novel gave me a lot of gratification, it is a challenging and sensitively written story full of depth and strong imagery which is both visceral and stark but with a real warmth that shines through when characters connect. It is those happy times that really show the story at its best and such set piece scenes are genuinely pleasing and a pleasure to reread straight after experiencing them the first time.
All the characters and their motivations are extremely believable and well fleshed out, the conflicts of (many different types of) guilt and regret, meets love and sacrifice, and powerful bonds are formed, yet throughout there is such a nobleness about the willing nature of family and friends to do all they can despite the terrible and desperate circumstances that they and, as in real life, so many find themselves in.
What may split readers is the closeness to the present, which is mirrored in certain parts of the book, to which I admit a certain malaise towards, in general. Whilst this may be unappetising and not perhaps the escapism some readers may wish for in these times, it does leave a lot of food for thought, and for all the points above would recommend this to readers who prefer to think about their stories long after the final page has been turned.
This is a story of humans, our differences, our moralities, and what binds us together which transcends all the nonsense that so often assaults our senses in the media. And as an extra bonus, thanks to each part having a Jewish name, I have been reading with interest into esoteric mysticism, which is intriguing and diverting, to say the least.