Friday, 5 September 2014

Project Firebird Nick Green - reviewed by Susan Price

          Leo is the black sheep of a nice, educated, middle-class family.
Project Firebird by Nick Green
Instead of gaining degrees, like his older brother, he gains street-cred and expertise in twoccing cars. He accidentally becomes a hero when he 
sees a couple being attacked by a gang, and mistakes them for his brother and girlfriend. He intervenes, steering the stolen car he's driving at the gang, and saving the couple from a beating or worse. It turns out they're strangers - but Leo is not only treated leniently by the court for stealing the car, but is awarded a Firebird Medal, 'a sort of junior George Cross,' for his courage and public spirit.  Leo thinks this hilarious.
          Part of his award is a fortnight's adventure holiday in a remote part of the Lake District. He meets the other Firebird winners, almost all of them high achievers of one kind or another - chess champions, Decathalon Olympic hopefuls, child math prodigies. There's also Rhys Carnarvon, famous for having accompanied his scientist father on a walk to the South Pole, to raise awareness of Global Warming. Carnarvon Senior was killed.
          Leo can't help feeling that he shouldn't be there, that his award was a mistake. If he hadn't thought he was going to the rescue of his brother, he wouldn't have risked taking on the gang.
          At the holiday's end, their cheerful, friendly instructors lock the doors and, taking on a far more military persona, say they can't leave. The Firebird Award was never about rewarding excellence. It's part of the Firebird Project, which is about preserving civilisation for the future.
          A comet is due to strike the Earth. Attempts are being made to deflect it, but there are no guarantees they will work. It can't be predicted exactly when the comet will strike, or where, but it will be soon. The debris thrown into the atmosphere by the comet's impact will cause a winter that will last for years. Crops will fail world-wide. There will be famine, pestilence, war. Civilisation will fall apart.
          The Firebird winners - as intelligent, talented teenagers - have been chosen to survive, and to preserve all that mankind has achieved for the future. An old nuclear bunker under the mountains has been turned into a state-of-the-art home for them, and called 'The Nest.' If the worst happens, they will survive it, and with their own education and knowledge, together with the libraries in the Nest, they can return to humanity all that will be lost.
          Leo feels more than ever out of place. What does a car thief have to offer the future of the world?
          Over the next weeks, housed in The Nest, it is brought home to the teenagers just how helpless and bewildered humanity will be after the comet strikes. One of the instructors asks them to make him a simple cup of tea - first, he says, you'd better trek off to a stream, to get the water. It probably won't be fit to drink. Oh, but wait! - Before that, make a pot to carry it in. And I take milk, so you'll need to have a dairy herd at hand. Sugar? - better start preparing a field to plant the beet. And what about the tea-plants? They don't grow in the Lake District.
          Most of them are unhappy at being parted from their families, even though they're assured that places have been assigned in other bunkers for all their family members. One girl, Paige, is especially unhappy at being parted from the younger sister she cared for and rescued from their abusive home. The little girl is with their adoptive mother, and both will be taken to bunkers, she's told - but Paige doesn't care. She wants the little girl with her, in The Nest.
Nick Green
         With the comet's impact imminent, several of the Firebirds combine their ingenuity to help Leo and Paige escape, despite the electronic locks and cameras. Leo twocs a car and they make a desperate drive to London, hoping to get there, snatch the little sister, and make it back to The Nest in time.

           They manage it, but possibly only because the Head Instructor catches up with them in London, and speeds them back to safety. But he abandons them when they're almost at The Nest, while he goes off to try and help his colleagues, who - also searching for Leo and Paige - are trapped in a panicky Manchester. Word of the comet has leaked.
          Back inside The Nest, with the other Firebirds, Leo and Paige watch, on huge screens, as the comet strikes Italy. It's a vividly imagined and described scene. The world goes dark in all senses, and the teenagers realise that their adult instructors are gone, and they are truly alone. They try to contact other bunkers, but there are no replies.
          This is a thoroughly entertaining, exciting, thought-provoking and powerfully written book. The characters are many, all individual and lively - their dialogue is excellent, and witty. They all change, both as they learn more about themselves, and as we learn more about them.
          Eco-conscious teens will love it. Hell, I'm 60 and not very eco-conscious at all, and I loved it.
          Highly recommended. And yet conventional publishers wouldn't publish it. Just as they withdrew from publishing Nick Green's other, highly acclaimed series, The Cat Kin.
          Go figure.