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Hell Sans

HELL SANS by Ever Dundas from @angryrobotbooks #BookReview #Dystopia

HELL SANS by Ever Dundas

Angry Robot, p/b £ 9.99

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

The front cover for Hell Sans by Ever Dundas. The cover is half yellow and half black. The title spans the page and the letters in the black half are yellow and black in the yellow half.

This is a dystopian novel, but don’t worry, as it is all about modern times. It proves the point that divide and rule was a great invention, ensuring everyone knew their place.

In consuming a slogan set in Hell Sans font, the reader’s social standing is reinforced by a blissful surge, exciting a sense of purity. But if the reader is allergic to Hell Sans, then they are damned, turned into the immortal vile other; the leper to be abused, beaten and denied humanity, sent to the ghetto and only ever allowed out to frighten the public into appreciating their exclusive status.

In such a society, cynicism rules OK. Yes, this is truly about modern times. The times are so current that every citizen is accompanied by their own personal computer mobile assistant called an Inex that clings to the shoulder, a bit like Philip Pullman’s daemons. Jane Ward invented the Inex, founded The Company that makes them and where she presides as the Chief Executive Officer. She is so powerful she is patronised by both the Prime Minister, Caddick and the Opposition Leader, Milligan. There is talk of a Daedalus Project.

Meanwhile, Ichorel `Icho’ Smith, a workaholic chemist, has devised a treatment that manages the Hell Sans allergy, thus turning it from a life sentence into a controllable condition. Think of the cure for HIV, then imagine if the people in power had wanted HIV to continue, to persist and perpetuate divisions in society? Yes, this is a tale about modern times, but then anything is possible where corruption prevails.

Icho despatches her Inex to Milligan with the details of the treatment in the hope that publicity will make it widely available. Tragically, Milligan is attacked, and the Inex’s memory is ripped out by the attacker. Jane Ward witnesses this violence from another building, and this is where the story really starts.

Icho is now being hunted by Caddick and the police. To escape. Icho swaps her identity with a Hell Sans allergy sufferer – also known as an HSA. As she hides in plain sight, Icho watches a newsreel which clearly indicates to her expert eye that somehow Jane Ward has become a real HSA sufferer.

There is a change in the narrative character twice in this book. The first is from Icho to Jane Ward and then back. This is a bit disturbing to the reader as it happens the first time at a critical moment requiring that the first part of the plot is reprised through the eyes of another. Yes, this does help to flesh the plot out into wider themes, but in a novel over four hundred pages long, how far is this really necessary?

Both Icho and Jane are exiled into the ghetto, where the HSA are forced to eke out a miserable existence, subject to attack and the dominion of The Seraphs, an underground group supposedly acting on behalf of the HSA. Of course, it all turns bloody and in due course, the Daedalus Project is revealed as the creation of cyborg humans. Rather than reaching a conclusion, the novel becomes open-ended, but it wouldn’t be dystopian if it didn’t.

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