Book Review: Knight in Paper Armor

“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 review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Image courtesy of Nicholas Conley

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.


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A fascinating Edition to a Nostalgic Series: Midnight Sun

Just a quick preface I was obsessed with Twilight throughout my teenage years and remember walking to school whilst reading Eclipse, completely hooked. Although I have revisited the films in recent years, I haven’t been tempted to re-read the saga, but I was unashamedly excited at the start of the year when Midnight Sun was announced. I really tried to savor the pages, but I only lasted a few days! This will be gushy, as it’s reviewed by a dedicated Twilight fan, but I couldn’t help myself.

Midnight Sun

Stephanie Meyer

Young Adult, fantasy, romance

Little Brown and Company, August 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros

  • The background to the Cullen world ~ seeing things through Edward’s perspective is different in many ways. Being over a hundred years old, Edward naturally has a more complex way of viewing the world, the language is different and heavier than that used with Bella’s perspective throughout the previous saga. It is dense and heavy, but offers a perspective on the human world that is unique and interesting. Through Edward’s perspective, we gain a greater insight into the history of the Cullen family which is fascinating to read. A lot of the book features the thoughts of the Cullen’s and other human’s in Bella’s circle, including Mike Newton and Jessica Stanley – as Edward recalls reading their minds.
  • The chance to see things through Edward’s perspective ~ Edward has faced a lot of backlash in recent years for his controlling nature. Although there is certainly some truth to this, one has to realise he is a Vampire and Meyer isn’t trying to portray a normal human relationship here… he is an animal after all. The animalistic nature of his very being is self evident, as Edward describes the pain of his thirst and the complications this brings. In reading this I think I actually left feeling more sympathetic toward Edward and more understanding of why he is the way he is. Ultimately, I found reading things through Edward’s perspective so much less annoying than Bella’s….
  • It adds greater complexity to the overall story ~ Seeing things through an alternative lens, having read the entire story multiple times over, is bound to give more complexity to the saga. Through reading this I actually gained a greater appreciation for the world Meyer had created, as all the back story’s were revealed. Meyer has always faced backlash for being a poor writer (which I never believed) but this edition really highlights her skill as a writer, expressed with her attention to detail.
  • It adds another dimension to their relationship ~ Bella for me was always a problematic narrator and not a very likable character. The Cullen’s were always the most fascinating, so seeing everything through Edward’s perspective was definitely better from a reading point of view. Seeing Edward’s perspective on human relationships is certainly interesting, but he also manages to convey the beautiful simplicity of being human. He notices things we probably don’t – like the subtle changes in Bella’s skin-tone, and the alterations in someones voice. Although some of the criticisms over Edward’s possessiveness are valid, I think seeing the relationship through his lens is incredibly valuable. Bella is not pushed into his arms, rather, she pushes herself, and Edward is always on the side of hesitancy throughout their relationship.

Cons

  • It is long winded at times ~ Being stuck inside Edward’s head is fascinating when there’s lots going on, but in scenes when he is on a hunt or just by himself, it can be quite boring. There is a constant re-laying of other people’s thoughts as he reads their minds, which could have done with a bit of toning down, but on the whole I found his perspective fascinating.
  • The discovery that Edward knew he was going to leave Bella far earlier on ~ From reading the saga multiple times in the past, I never got the impression that Edward knew that he was going to leave Bella so early on. In this book, he realises he needs to leave her just after the incident with James, when Bella is still in the hospital, but never lets on. I think this is one of the sides to him I don’t like – he is a very good liar and can easily manipulate Bella into a false sense of security. Obviously, with everything that happens in New Moon and after, we know they get back together but still, it was something I was shocked to discover and kind of annoyed at Edward for.
  • This won’t make sense unless you’ve read the other 4 books ~ Not necessarily a negative but I think it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t another Twilight story, but an addition to the series which definitely would not be as valuable unless you had read the other books. Knowing the entirety of the story didn’t hinder me as a reader, but I found I actually benefited from it as I could fully get into Edward’s own perspective.

Favourite Quotes

Image: USA today

“My life was an unending, unchanging midnight It must, by necessity, always be midnight for me. So how was it possible that the sun was rising now, in the middle of my midnight?”

The dedication nearly had me bawling, “This book is dedicated to all the readers who have been such a happy part of my life for the last fifteen years. When we first met, many of you were young teenagers with bright, beautiful eyes full of dreams for the future. I hope that in the years that have passed, you’ve all found your dreams and that the reality of them was even better than you’d hoped.”

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