Review – The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

By | March 12, 2015

Welcome to London – but not as you know it.

Oxford Street burned for three weeks. The British Museum is occupied by ragtag survivors. The Regent’s Park camps have been bombed. The Nazareth Act has come into force. If you can’t produce your identity card, you don’t exist.

Lalla, sixteen, has grown up sheltered from the new reality by her visionary father, Michael Paul. But now the chaos has reached their doorstep. Michael has promised to save them. His escape route is a ship big enough to save five hundred people. But only the worthy will be chosen. 

Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla’s unease grows. Where are they going? What does her father really want? What is the price of salvation?

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell created quite a buzz before its publication on 19 February, for kindle and in hardcover, by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. It was on a number of “books to look out for” lists – but I noticed some friends struggling with it a little, so I did approach with some trepidation.

The blurb positioned this book as “The Hunger Games meets The Handmaid’s Tale”, and it has to be said that the comparisons did the book few favours. Some people speculated that it was targeted at young adults – young adults would possibly enjoy it, but the sixteen year old girl at its centre certainly isn’t a Katniss Everdene. In fact, I think she might be one of the most thoroughly unlikeable heroines on which anyone has ever focused a story. And what is this current trend of comparing books anyway? But whatever your feelings on reading this book – and I really enjoyed it – it’s difficult to argue against the fact that it’s exceptionally innovative, the product of a wonderful creative imagination, exceptionally well written and a book you certainly won’t forget in a hurry.

The ship itself mesmerised me – the world the author (and Lalla’s father Michael) creates is described in a level of detail that I loved. It left me with the most vivid images – the food store rooms, the clothing awaiting the people in future years, the map drawn in flour on the table as people recalled the geography of London, the ship’s inhabitants gathering around the broadcasts of atrocities from home. Lalla herself I struggled with a little – her life of privilege, her obsession with home, her selfishness and single-mindedness when some flexibility would have made life more bearable for her and those around her. Her father is thoroughly fascinating, a wonderfully complex character whose unique vision created the world they now inhabit, his later incarnation as an all-powerful messiah a fascinating contrast with his pre-Ship life with his more realistic and grounded wife.

I really enjoyed this one – a wonderful creation of a post-apocalyptic world, some truly fascinating characters and situations, and a book that will stay with me for some time to come.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

Antonia Honeywell has been dreaming of being published since she was eight, and actually working at it for a decade. Her blog tells the story about the process of taking her book from manuscript to finished novel – The Ship was published on 19th February 2015. The author has an excellent website which includes her blog, and you can also follow her on Twitter.