You may think that our current political crises are staggeringly unprecedented but picture this: a power-hungry and newly elected Prime Minister, charged with the violent murder of one of the underworld’s shadiest characters. This is merely the first in a chain of explosive events in Crossfire by Malorie Blackman, the fifth instalment in her applauded Noughts & Crosses series. A clever thriller with the emphasis firmly on the political, it’s a challenging read for young adults beginning to consider their place in the world.
Noughts & Crosses has become a modern classic and syllabus favourite. Portraying an alternative world where people of colour (Crosses) are deemed superior to the exploited white underclass of the Noughts, it’s spawned several sequels and an upcoming BBC dramatisation. In Crossfire we encounter familiar characters decades down the line.
Tobey Durbridge is the first-ever Nought Prime Minister, but in these supposedly enlightened times, societal tensions still run high. Accused of murder, the personal and political stakes couldn’t be higher.
Our current political climate has been a dark gift for Malorie Blackman, and she weaves many strikingly relevant themes into her story. Separatist Noughts and Crosses groups have evolved into extremist terrorist groups and the novel is punctuated with their atrocities. Echoes of our own Windrush scandal are to be found in this society where certain citizens of Nought heritage have to apply for ‘confirmed residential status.’ Presciently too, Durbridge is depicted with a behind-the-scenes advisor, a shady and Machiavellian character who will come to play a key role in proceedings.
The dramatic twists to the plot are mainly played out between established characters from previous books and this proved to be a stumbling block for me. I had to keep flicking back to the family tree in the preface, my befuddlement being added to by sharp time-shifts within the narrative.
But this is my only complaint in a novel of great vigour and punch, whose final overarching point is that, actually, everything in life is political.
Crossfire by Malorie Blackman is published by Penguin, 432 pages.