Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph
Meanwhile, Akhila shows up at a collapsed apartment building in Mumbai. When the military detect signs of life beneath the rubble, Akhila, a medical student and fitness fanatic, is the only person suitably small and qualified to crawl through a narrow tunnel to attend to him. Through his delirium, the trapped man seems to have information about an imminent terror attack.
In a third strand, an intelligence agent trails a terror suspect as he drives north towards Gujarat. The agents are waiting to trap the man, but there’s a complication in the form of his unexpected passenger, nineteen-year-old Laila.
Told with intelligence, humour and wit, this is an important story about not only the dangers of nationalism, but also the smugness of activists who take the moral high ground. While the latter made me squirm a little, I loved the voice and appreciated learning more about Hindu nationalism, having first encountered it thirty-odd years ago in a village in Maharashtra on Christmas Day. (Naïvely, I attributed benevolent motives to the visitors distributing lengths of cloth to the villagers in exchange for attending a lecture, but my fellow volunteers, students from Bombay, soon put me right.)
But I was a little disappointed in what the publishers, Myriad Editions, who provided my review copy, describe as the “ingenious twist” tying the three strands together. Nevertheless, an engrossing and thought-provoking read.
Perfidious Albion by Sam Byers
Meanwhile, another Larchwood resident, Trina, remotely manages the microtaskers at a tech company, whose work is organised in a way to keep them permanently anxious and unable to congregate for support. Green, the company she works for, has big plans for worming its way into the town’s infrastructure, of which Trina is unaware. But will the group of masked men calling themselves The Griefers, threatening to make public a random resident’s digital data thwart this plan?
The plot is enticing, but it takes Sam Byers pages and pages of real-time dialogue, reflection and exposition to introduce the players and the issues involved. I found myself skim-reading in the middle, although I did enjoy how he pulls it together in the end. Yet the set-up is different enough from the world as we know it to require a huge amount of world building, and the underlying message too similar to what we can read every day in an op-ed piece in a decent newspaper, I was left disappointed. Nevertheless, thanks to Faber and Faber for my review copy. Apologies to the author for borrowing his character for yesterday’s flash.