Gemma Malley

The Killables, book 1

Hodder and Stoughton (2012)


Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The Killables is the first in a dystopian trilogy aimed at young adults, although it is likely to appeal to adult readers as well. It is an entertaining and well written novel, which provides a reasonable sense of completion around some matters while still leaving much hanging for the following books to resolve.

Malley is the author of a previous dystopian trilogy aimed at the same audience (The Declaration, The Resistance and The Legacy). Despite that surface similarity – and the fact that both trilogies have a particular focus on a young couple – it is clear from The Killables that the two trilogies are in fact very different. For one thing, The Killables feels a little more complex; neither trilogy deals with simple issues, but this one feels like it dwells on the issues with a little more depth.

Evie tries hard to be very grateful. She and her parents live in The City. The City was established as society fell apart during the horrors of endless, pointless, destructive wars.  It is more than a safe haven where food and water and shelter is available – evil has been eradicated! Everyone has had an operation to remove the evil part of their brain. And each person now carries a label; the System determines how “good” they are and ranks them accordingly. This impacts on their social position, work, and general happiness. And if they show signs of the evil re-emerging, they are labeled a “K” and taken away to be operated on again. Except they never seem to come back…

But Evie is lucky.  She is a “B”, and lucky enough to be engaged to an “A”. She has everything a girl could possible want. Sadly, Evie isn’t grateful. She’s oddly drawn to her fiance’s younger brother, and meets him illicitly (if innocently). She questions many of the things she’s told. She finds it hard to follow the rules of The City, although she knows they are there for everyone’s good. Outside The City is just a wasteland of evil, with no way for good people to survive, populated by wicked outcasts (known as Evils) who’d kill them all if they just got the chance.

Although Evie keeps telling herself to be grateful and to follow the rules, she struggles. And when someone she loves is condemned as a “K”, she gives up the struggle. She then quickly finds out that a lot of things are not at all what she thought they were.

Although this young adult novel is likely to appeal to a lot of older readers, they will find the plot a little more obvious than less experienced readers. I saw a couple of major plot points coming several miles away, and I suspect most readers will – only younger readers or those who don’t read a lot of books are likely to be taken off guard by some of these “revelations”. However, the plot is tight and well managed – it flows well, and the action versus revelations is well balanced. The setting is original, and although the essential plot isn’t entirely original, Malley addresses it with enough freshness that most readers won’t mind too much. As noted, there’s a reasonable amount of completion in this novel – readers won’t feel cheated when they reach the end, but there are still plenty of reasons to come back and find what else the plot has in store. It may well be that the broader plot has some more genuine surprises in store.

One of the strengths of the novel is the characterisation. While Evie is a little naïve, it’s entirely credible given the way and the world in which she’s been raised. She is an engaging and realistic character. Many young adult readers will identify with her; older readers may not but they’re likely to sympathise with her. Lucas – Evie’s fiancé – and his brother Raffy are also vivid characters that many young readers will understand. Raffy in particular epitomises that sense of outrage at the unfairness of the world that most of us learn to damp down with age. The more controlled Lucas turns out to be the kind of person many young readers will admire.

Although these three have the lion’s share of the emotional weight of the book, the more minor characters are equally vivid – Evie’s parents, the Brother who runs The City, some of the neighbours Evie interacts with. Each is individual and credible.

This strong characterisation means readers are likely to engage strongly with Evie’s plight, and be more concerned with that than whether the plot is sometimes a touch obvious. Evie herself would not find some of these things obvious, and a reader caught up in her emotions is thus less likely to mind. The emotions that Evie and her friends feel are very vividly drawn and will subtly hook many readers.

Malley does not squib the fact that she’s raising some pretty ugly issues at times during the book. Some are issues that young readers will identify with (how do you know when you’re in love? If someone is really right for you?), and others are hopefully ones they haven’t had to face. Malley is clear about the moral issues – the text does not shy away from them or talk down to younger readers. No, it isn’t the deepest examination possible of some of these issues. It’s a young adult novel – so there are length considerations – and it’s told through the eyes of a naïve teenager who may not have the capacity to delve into the full complexity of everything. Having said this, The Killables is definitely a novel designed to make readers think and question as well as entertain them.

The Killables is an excellent young adult novel. It’s well written and entertaining, while still presenting some serious issues for readers to get their teeth into.  It should do well with the intended audience, and is also likely to be enjoyed by some adult readers.