The menace of shades of grey, Cameron Young
Havoc is a fiction book written by New Zealand author Jane Higgins, the sequel to her book The Bridge. The world of The Bridge and Havoc is set in a dangerous city at war, where self-entitled, rich Citysiders fight against the Breken hostiles of Southside. These two novels twist a whirlwind of adventure and suspense, while still acknowledging ongoing problems such as war, racism, class distinction and poverty.
The central idea in these two novels is that a city split into two sides is at war with each other; the Citysiders against the Southsiders. The Citysiders are God-fearing people, one of their mottos being “God Is On Our Side”, while the Southsiders are either “heathens” or people of a pagan-like religion, who participate in “festivals”. The circumstances of war in these books are almost parallel to the Israeli-Palestinian war. Like the Citysiders and the Southsiders, the Israelis and Palestinians are fighting in their own country for their own beliefs. Many of the consequences from war are also parallel to what is happening in the Middle East, such as poverty, human-trafficking, and hostage situations. The situation of “Suzannah Montier, a Breken leader held hostage on Cityside” who was eventually “found dead” is very similar to the Munich massacre, when an Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group, Black September. Small similarities like this helped me develop empathy for the characters. Jane Higgins used the idea of two groups in a country/city at war with each other in her story because it is easy to understand the characters’ emotions once we can relate the Cityside-Southside war to the Israeli-Palestinian war, or other conflicts of the same nature. Higgins also used this idea to show that war can arrive at any city or country, no matter how “powerful” or “scientifically-advanced” it is. Higgins shows us that war is in everything we believe and the actions we make, not just in a faraway place like the Middle East.
The review analyses the book in a couple of wider contexts: firstly as part of a series, and secondly within the political situation of the real world of the reader.
Editor’s note: Close
The main character of these novels is a young man called Nikolai Stais. Nik has grown up a coloured orphanage on Cityside, in an “ISIS training facility” called Tornmoor or, as he believes, a “school”. Throughout the story, Nik struggles with his identity, having no family, or even remembering his parents’ names. He searches for his purpose and his “place in the world”. I find this very relatable because, being a teenage boy myself, I understand Nik’s confusion and desperation in trying to find out what his place is in a big, scary world. What teenager really understands themself? Jane Higgins manages to recreate the dark feeling of being lost without explicitly saying so, and puts the reader in the shoes of young Nik. However, I do not find Nik very endearing. Coupled with his restrained nature, he is compulsively honest. His girlfriend Lanya tells him, “I like that you’re no good at pretending”. Though honesty is usually the best policy, I find it bland on someone with such an interesting childhood and quest, such as Nik. I feel as though he should have a more outgoing and dishonest personality to match his family situation. Like the Indian philosopher, Chanakya said, “A person should not be too honest. Straight trees are cut first and honest people are screwed first.”
In Havoc, Cityside is unmasked as the typically deceptive, power-hungry, controlling group of the city. Or, in other words, the “bad side”. But, are they evil? Cityside has been brainwashed by their scared leaders into believing that the “hostiles thought their blood and organs held some kind of life-giving power”, that the hostiles hate them and want “to destroy the city”. To protect themselves and their children, the people of Cityside retaliate the only way they think they can: with violence. I don’t blame them for their actions, because I know if there was a threat to my family, I would do anything to protect them. Through this reveal, Higgins showed me that sometimes extreme measures must be made to protect others. She also delved deep into the idea that there is no such thing as “black and white”, or right and wrong, but that humanity is coloured in many shades of grey. Higgins used the example of Cityside, who is assumed to be bad by readers, just because they are the enemies of the main characters; however, both sides are fighting for what they believe in, and what is evil about that? Through this example’s hidden and underlying meanings, Jane Higgins exhibits human nature in its barest form.
The reviewer has thought about his own objectivity, about the way his own opinions – formed by his own particular and subjective experiences and background – has affected the way he’s read and understood the book’s meaning.
Editor’s note: Close
I really enjoyed reading The Bridge and Havoc, and would highly recommend them to anyone looking for thought-provoking books. Jane Higgins has done an excellent job of painting a vivid and beautiful story, while still capturing a dark menace behind each word. Higgins touched on very real problems in her books, problems that are easily relatable and current, such as war, death and poverty. I found these novels mentally-filling but, at the same time, I was grasping for answers to the many questions they left me. Jane Higgins is a stunning writer, and The Bridge and Havoc are the epitome of her skills.
Cameron Young is in year 11 at Karamu High School, Hastings.
February, 2016 jane Scroll down to see reviews submitted by YA readers: Havoc, The Bridge