One – Eve Smith

One Law One Child 7 million Crimes

One, Eve Smith’s third speculative fiction thriller (available now in Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook), takes place in the aftermath of calamitous climate emergency which has, in turn, created a pitiless one-child policy in the UK.

The Ministry of Population and Family Planning, part of the totalitarian state, oversees and enforces the policy with all the technical support this near-future world provides. Mandatory contraception is the norm. And should anyone exceed the one-child law? They’ll be found and face the severest of punishment.  

Kai, the protagonist of the novel, is a 25-year-old ‘baby reaper’ responsible for enforcing the law: part of the establishment but no better off than those she investigates. But what are the options? The rebels working against the state are worse than the authorities: carrying out guerrilla attacks under the radar. Or so Kai believes, until she discovers that she herself has an illegal sibling – and the name has just surfaced on her hit-list.

I’ve been a fan of Eve Smith’s previous work – her debut The Waiting Rooms and her follow up Off Target also both firmly in the speculative fiction field, but I think One is her best yet.

A bit like In the Blink of an Eye, a recent review, One is set in a near-future that, increasingly, seems less far away than we might like to think: a device used cleverly throughout the book via news articles interspersed between chapters referring to UK and world events that feel all too plausible.

There’s a touch of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in the increasingly questioning protagonist, a hint of Dick’s Blade Runner or Total Recall (Or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/ We Can Remember It For You Wholesale if you prefer the print not the screen versions) in the detective’s personal life and home. But it never felt alien enough to feel like ‘hard-core’ Sci Fi. Rather, it’s close enough but different to work as a thriller regardless of what your feelings might be about technology/ Sci-Fi fiction.

And that use of the word Detective? I use it advisedly because that’s how the novel read for me: as Kai uncovers the detail of a sibling she never knew she had, it’s up to her to decide how she responds to it: in the cold, bureaucratic way she’s been trained to behave or as a thinking, feeling and, ultimately, a human being with emotions and empathy. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say she starts digging deeper…

So, I read the book as a thriller – not so much a whodunnit as a political thriller with a breadcrumb of clues that need solving to get to the personal and wider ranging ramifications.

There’s a lot of emotion in this book – more so, despite the personal subjects, in the previous books: maybe it’s partly in the topic, but I think a lot of it is the author’s increasing prowess. The world-building is done in a subtle but compelling way: I could recognise the settings and situations at all times and they felt real (often worryingly so).

Ultimately it comes down to the story. It’s an interesting premise for sure and comes across as original even as one can spot threads from ranges as wide as the previously mentioned books and the likes of 1984,V for Vendetta, Children of Men and more – but I’ve read a lot of books recently that have had compelling hooks that run out of steam and have little else to say. One has plenty to say and says it in a compelling and engaging way but in its bones, it is a thriller. And that’s where it really worked for me. There are plot twists and narrative turns throughout: conspiracies where you might not expect them and tension.

Lots of tension.

If the idea of ‘speculative fiction’ raises warning signs for you this could be the book to change your mind.

One is available now in Paperback, Kindle and on Audio

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