“This is a country of immigrants. Hate it all you want, but immigration is America. I’m America, more than you’ll ever be.”
TW — This book and the following review contains topics relating to hate crimes, antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, violence, torture, suicide, sensory deprivation, traumatic injury/disability, the Holocaust, and emotional abuse.
Beth Shalom is the 93rd state of the 179 United States of America, which is the setting of this stunning work of dystopian fiction. In a place called Heaven’s Hole, a boy named Billy Jakobek has grown up in laboratories, at the hands of Caleb, the force behind the megacorporation, Thorne Century. Caleb’s motivation behind subjecting this boy to countless experimentation is that he’ll be able to harness his powers to create a new type of warfare — one that is “clean. Contained. Beautiful.”
In many ways, it is a world far away from our own — but not far enough away that we cannot see the influence of the contemporary world within every detail. Natalia Gonzalez, one of the main protagonists, is a rebellious young artist, and the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, who falls in love with Billy as their paths cross. Living in Heaven’s Hole, Natalia regularly experiences the deprivation ensured by Thorne Century’s regime, as her family and community work within the factories that keep the regime running. Her world is one of poverty, deprivation, and an endless cycle of suffering. With an eye for creativity and a rebellious spirit, she hopes to one day break out of this cycle.
When these two character’s cross paths — their worlds collide. Together, they aim to bring down the megacorporation Thorne Century and strive to create a better world. But it is not that easy, defeating Caleb will be the biggest fight of all. This novel is entirely dystopian in feel, scope, and intent — but it contains elements of fantasy, science fiction and young adult themes — in being narrated by two teenagers who fall in love despite the crumbling world around them. However, it is also rooted in our world. It shines a light on the everyday xenophobia, antisemitism, class inequality and capitalist exploitation which is rife within the US — and the rest of the world.
Please note, a copy of this book was kindly gifted to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author
Nicholas Conley is a full-time writer — who has written for several publications such as Vox, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Reporter, Dictionary.com and others. He is also the author of four books, Knight in Paper Armour being his most recent one.
Nicholas is Jewish and a descendent of Ashkenazic refuges from Russia and Sephardic refugees who fled from the Spanish inquisition. On a personal level, he is a great believer in human rights, social justice, systemic reforms and living in a fairer world — for all.
“… we all share the same world. We’re all in this together. No matter what, we should do the best we can to take care of each other.” — Nicholas Conley
You can find out more about Nicholas Conley via his website.
My first thought upon finishing this book was “wow” — it sounds cliché, but it is entirely accurate. Upon writing up my notes when I finished the book — there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to give this a 5/5, there’s simply nothing that I can fault. I am incredibly grateful to Nicholas for asking if I would like to review his book because it is not the kind of book I would have picked up myself.
So what did I like about this book?
Firstly — I found the ideas woven throughout this book utterly compelling — and could empathize with the struggles of Natalia Gonzalez because of her belief in a fairer society. Despite being a dystopian novel through and through, it draws upon many sentiments that we are currently dealing with globally in social, cultural, and political life. Thorne Century, the megacorporation which controls all the aspects of life for those who live in Heaven’s Hole, is, in a way, a metaphor for capitalism itself.
It crushes people’s ambition, perpetuates inequality just by existing, and fails to bring about a fairer way of life. Caleb, the perpetrator and manipulator of Billy Jakobek, is a power-hungry individual — who rules Heaven’s Hole for his own benefit. This is a vision of society that is divided along the lines of ethnicity, race, economic status and gender — thus, in many ways, it mirrors our world. However, this is a creative, dystopian state which provides enough fantasy to escape from our world.
Therefore — I resonated with this book because it felt current and there is so much to unpack. In many ways, it contains the classic element of good versus evil. Still, it is told with so many complexities that reading it, is enough to make you stop in your tracks and re-evaluate the world around you. 2020 has been dominated by American politics and the continuous systemic racism that lingers — and in this novel — it lays bear this influence within a unique, fast-paced and believable story.
As well as the ideas, I loved the characters and execution of this novel. I empathised with Natalia, who becomes somewhat of a revolutionary figure in the book with her opposition to Thorne Century, and I saw a lot of myself in her. She ardently believes that through a collective effort and vision, we can change the systems of oppression that ensnare us. As a character, she is also good-humoured and utterly likeable.
Billy Jakobek is a complex character who spends most of his time within a tank monitored by Caleb for the harnessing of his psychic abilities. He is subject to countless experiments and deprived of living in the real world — until he meets Natalia. Many themes in this novel also evoke the feeling of a classic coming of age story — but set amongst a dystopian state — it is truly original and enthralling.
The book is fast-paced, full of action and chops and changes between different character perspectives. It keeps you reading with every twist and turn, as you follow Billy and Natalia’s hopes of creating a better world. Crucially it also had a very satisfying ending which is essential for me when giving out five-star ratings. Often, if I give a book a 4-star rating, it will mean that I was left dissatisfied, but this is far from the case here. The ending to this whirlwind of a book was satisfying, heart-warming and convincing.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels that distract you from the present, but also make poignant points about the way we live now. And importantly, the systems that dominate our world and perpetuate multiple forms of inequality. This book is endlessly captivating and provides us with an essential insight into our contemporary world.
For fans of dystopian novels and readers of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the perfect book. I went into it not knowing what to expect but came away utterly mesmerised.
Knights in Paper Armor was published in September 2020 and is available to buy in paperback or as an e-book on Amazon.
I regularly accept review requests, if you’re an author and would like me to review your book, please visit my contact page for more information or to get in touch.