science fiction and fantasy book reviewsThe Ship by Antonia Honeywell speculative fiction book reviewsThe Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Lalla has never had a real apple before. She’s eaten tinned apple and dried apple and apple preserve, but never a real apple. This is because sixteen-year-old Lalla is born at the end of the world, in a London where Big Ben is underwater and Regents Park is nothing but a tent city of homeless people and the British Museum is shelter to the starving masses of a dying civilisation. But Lalla’s father has a solution to the destitution her family face. The prospect of The Ship has taken on a mythical quality in Lalla’s life, as she’s heard her parents planning and arguing over it for most of her childhood, and as society teeters on the brink of collapse, the time has finally come to board the legendary vessel.

The Ship consists of 500 hundred lucky souls that her father has personally selected for his new society, though his selection process is not initially clear. On board, Lalla is astounded to discover luxuries she’d never dreamed of: electricity available at all hours of the day, running water, a functioning surgery with medicines and a doctor to manage it. There is more food than she could dream of — food to last tens upon tens of years. But whilst the other passengers embrace their newfound utopia with open arms, Lalla is unable to accept life on board the ship so readily.

Passengers soon begin referring to her father, Michael, as their own father, and Michael in turn encourages them to forget their pasts and ignore the bulletins that bring news of the starving Londoners and the homeless people that have been killed in the British Museum. He spurs on the passengers to cast their photos overboard, letters, mementoes — anything that might link them to their old lives. Eventually he riles them up to cast the radio mast overboard as well, so there is no longer any way of getting news from the outside world.

Yet Lalla finds it impossible to let go. She is dogged by thoughts of those living in the British Museum and those suffering homeless on the streets of London that she and her mother used to feed. “Where are we going?” is her continuous question, and it seems that no-one on board will answer her. She begins to realise the extent of what her father has packed on board: enough clothes to last each passenger a life time, each sealed in named, vacuum packed bags; thousands of empty canvasses to paint on; wool and thread to knit and embroider with; and perhaps most sinister of all, wedding dresses and funeral clothes.

Whilst The Ship might initially be about the moral dilemma of humanity’s responsibility, it is at its heart a coming of age tale about our young protagonist growing apart from her father and shaking off the bonds of parental control. Lalla’s incessant tears and tantrums might grate on the more impatient reader, but Honeywell keeps the plot zipping along nicely as Lalla makes increasingly sinister discoveries on the ship, and a beautifully written prose distracts from her more annoying moments.

Yes, it’s not the first watery dystopia out there. Antonia Honeywell’s debut has been heralded as “The Hunger Games meets the London riots on board Noah’s Ark” — but don’t let that put you off. After all, what hasn’t been compared to The Hunger Games these days? What The Ship offers is a dark and thought-provoking exploration of the individual’s responsibility to society and a girl’s quest to understand her moral responsibility.

Publication date: February 19, 2015.Children of Men meets The Handmaid’s Tale: a dystopian epic about love, friendship and what it means to be free. Welcome to London, but not as you know it. Oxford Street burned for three weeks. The British Museum is squatted by ragtag survivors. The Regent’s Park camps have been bombed. The Nazareth Act has come into force. If you can’t produce your identity card, you will be shot. Lalla, 16, has grown up sheltered from the new reality by her visionary father, Michael Paul. But now the chaos has reached their doorstep. Michael has promised Lalla and her mother that they will escape. Escape is a ship big enough to save 500 people. But only the worthy will be chosen. Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla’s unease grows. Where are they going? What does her father really want?


  • Ray McKenzie

    RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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