Ultraviolet by Lesley Howarth

Any story that’s classed as post-apocalyptic will be get me interested. But if you really want to fascinate me, show me a post-apocalyptic world that is bizarre. And that’s just what attracted me to this young adult novel. Ultraviolet (not to be confused with the movie starring Milla Jovovich) is set in a near-future world where something has happened to the earth’s atmosphere causing the sun’s rays to be super-harmful for several months of the year. People are no longer permitted to go outdoors. Those who sneak out at their own risk are called “Leakers.” Homes are all connected by above-ground tunnels made of a protective plastic called BluScreen. BluScreen is more than just a covering; it allows the sun to penetrate in a non-harmful way, allowing gardens and such to grow underneath. BluScreen, unfortunately, is an extremely expensive material to purchase. Aside from the tunnels, only the rich can purchase the material for their own use.

The protagonist of the novel is Violet Niles, a gutsy teenager with attitude, daughter of a famous scientist responsible for the invention of BluScreen. When Violet learns that the lives of everyone could be transformed, if not for the greed of the powerful BluShield corportation, she decides to do something about it. It was hard to see where this novel was going until about halfway through, as the author indulged in a lot of world-building, rather than plot advancement. Normally, that would bore me, but I found Howarth’s world to be different and fascinating enough to sustain my interest until the real meat of the story came into play. As for characters, Violet Niles was wonderfully drawn – quite different from typical protagonists.

A note on the author’s style. One of the most common mistakes I find authors making is “the timid writer syndrome.” That’s where the author is afraid that the reader won’t understand him, so he throws in unnecessary extra words just to make sure. Oddly, this is the first book I’ve read where the author errs in the opposite direction. Howarth is a snappy writer, using an economy of words that is often skilful, but occasionally a bit irritating. Let’s say eighty percent of the time I admired the style of the book.

The novel also has a bit of a subtext. Howarth highlights the lack of freedom that young people today enjoy, as opposed to the author’s own childhood. Enforced indoor life and the inevitable obsession with videogames comes under the spotlight.

The ending was somewhat anticlimactic. Whilst I didn’t see it coming, it turned out to be a bit of a cliche. Nevertheless, as a whole, I had a good time with this novel and I consider it a worthwhile read.