Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Rig, by Joe Ducie

15 year old convicted criminal and serial escapist Will Drake has slipped the bars of some of the World's most secure prisons. His efforts have earned him a cell on 'The Rig' a disused oil rig since transformed into a a high-tech super prison for young offenders. Ran like clockwork by the demented Warden, the Rig is stranded in the middle of the freezing Arctic Ocean and only accessible by chopper, so swimming is definitely off the cards.

Confident that he won't be there long and compelled by his survival instincts and inconvenient moral compass, Drake doesn't exactly keep his head down. It's not long before his status as a 'Special Case' has attracted the attention of some of the Rig's more psychotic hard-man inmates and the sadistic military guard force. After hatching some rough escape plans, digging some dirt and vowing to escape the Rig if it kills him, Drake is convinced that all isn't as it seems on the Rig. What were those mysterious blue lights that Drake saw shining from the depths? Why are those psychopath inmates so inhumanly strong? And where do they disappear to for weeks at a time?

Working, eating, sleeping, his tracker noting his every location, Drake knuckles down, biding his time.  Falling short of his own rule, he befriends his computer genius cellmate Tristan and a healer girl, Irene from the other wing. Between them they might be able to discover the secret, sinister purpose of the Rig- not that being a floating Hell of 24 hour GPS tracking and frequent beating aren't sinister enough. Maybe one they've found out what goes on under the seabed- what keeps the Warden so smug and the bullies so strong, then they can plan their escape for good. No prison can hold Drake for long.

The Rig is set in a near future where the majority of the World is ruled by the sinister Alliance in which all resources, funds and rules are controlled by one powerful man. An absolutely brilliantly written, slick prison heist novel with a breathless plot, the Rig is one of the best stand-alone YA action novels I've read in ages. It's intricate, clever and has some truly memorable characters. Gradually wising up to the horrific secret buried under the sea, the reader unravels the mystery along with the characters, so expect to have to keep up. Drake makes an excellent protagonist; funny. charming, mysterious. Though it's not narrated in his voice, the reader still experiences his thoughts and feeling, even if they do not have access to his past. The way he slowly but meticulously adds the pieces to his mental map of the prison was done with style and in a way that really ramped up the suspense and revealed Drake's intelligence, survival instincts and impressive eye for detail.

One of the novel's greatest achievements is the strength of its characters. Each of the principal three are reluctant to open up about their crimes and convictions, each wants to preserve themselves from the pain of friendship and trust, wanting to go it alone. Drake, Tristan and Irene all have their own quirks, motivations and a unique and powerful back story, gradually demystified as each of the characters (and the reader) gets to know each other better. All are essentially huge inconveniences to the Alliance and need to be holed up out of the way. The characters are engaging, funny and convincing and they have a great rapport- they talk like real teens, which is hard to pull off. It's very easy to care about them, despite their obvious heroism. Even the villains are well crafted- sparse on the detail and wildly mysterious, as befits a private military. They seem genuinely evil, and delight in their cruelty. The book raises a few questions about corruption, doing the right thing and the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, which was interesting, and it makes it crystal clear which side Drake is on.

I'm not sure if the younger year groups will appreciate the novel's complexity, and there are a few swears, but overall a pacey, intelligent and incredibly slick YA novel that I think is going to be wildly popular. I certainly enjoyed it. I can see it making an absolutely cracking film one day. Will Drake is such a memorable character, like Jason Bourne meets Artemis Fowl.  I look forward to Joe Ducie's next release!

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