A fourteen year old girl should not have a “things to do before I die” list, but for Amy Sullivan that is the nature of life under siege, a looming dread which hangs over her and her schoolmates every day while her parents try to maintain a facade of normality in front of her then argue behind walls so thin that she can hear every word. Whatever this is, it’s not normal.
Amy’s best friend Matilda is beautiful and has boyfriends and will be taken before the week is out and Amy herself could be next, but even in the darkest moments it’s impossible to control how the mind wanders, and in the boredom of curfew, trapped with her family in their London flat with no immediate task to hand to focus upon, it is to Caesar that Amy’s thoughts drift, the boy she met at the party the night that things truly began to fall apart.
It is human and it is normal, and this is probably the most relatable moment in Sif Sigmarsdóttir’s I Am Traitor, an honest need for comfort and company in the darkness of an uncertain world where alien invaders are sweeping teenagers off the streets, the military useless against them and the politicians as panicked and confused as the population whom they are supposed to lead and govern.
If that sounds like a promising start for a gripping young adult novel, regrettably I Am Traitor is a disappointment, filled with superfluous chatter and pointless fuss in a world which feels superficial, with people hungry but not starving, abductions and killings carried out cleanly, a resistance composed of anxious parents seemingly more accustomed to chairing PTA meetings and even the soldiers guarding the streets properly spoken as they offer Mars Bars with a twinkle of blue eyes.
Amy taken aboard one of the ships where she intends to act as an agent of the resistance, there is no sense of the alien about the culture of Pronax, their technology and behaviour off-the-shelf low-concept science fiction, a “reds under the beds” B-movie storyline without the dazzle of George Pal to see it through, plodding through repetitive scenes of meal preparation and bickering teenagers in their orbiting prison.
Amy has insufficient verve or gumption to carry a four hundred page novel, the endless foreshadowing of her retrospective diary entries so uniform in tone and content they serve only to keep the narrative in a rut rather than punctuate the minimal action. Worse are her so-called friends conveniently held in the same ship, sulking and sniping behind her back as though they were on a disastrous school trip rather than prisoners of an alien regime which is actually more of a stratified micromanaging bureaucracy.
Written in the shape of one of John Wyndham’s “cosy catastrophes,” I Am Traitor feels terribly polite and British but lacks the emotional insight and social commentary which made The Day of the Triffids or The Kraken Wakes timeless classics, nor does it possess a unique angle or a thrilling darkness to sell it as a futurist dystopia on the cusp of now.
Paralleling Torchwood‘s Children of Men right down to the behind-the-scenes collusion of the ruling powers, one of the few twists that show innovated when it lifted the plot of The Quatermass Conclusion wholesale, the mechanics of the eventual revolution where an attack on the President of Pronax can be arranged by a low-ranking second-grade citizen walking up to his unguarded door and keying an override code is not going to convince even a child let alone the supposedly more sophisticated teenage audience the book is aimed at, those most profoundly betrayed by I Am Traitor are the readers.
I Am Traitor is available now from Hodder Children’s Books