Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 161
25th June 2007
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Madsen Pirie: Novelist
by Sean Gabb
Children of the Night
Arctic Fox Books, London, 2007, 162pp, £8.95 (hbk)
ISBN 978 0 9555844-0-4
Arctic Fox Books, London, 2007, 139pp, £8.95 (hbk)
ISBN 978 0 9555844-1-1
While Madsen Pirie is most certainly the father of these books, I feel in a sense that I am one of their uncles. Last year, I wrote an article on self-publication, in which I explained how writers could nowadays do without the traditional medium of a publisher to get their work before the public. Dr Pirie took my advice to heart, improving on it in several places, and has now published not one but two novels.
Unlike my own novels, these may be given to children. Both are short. Both are clear and simple. Both are wholesome. Both, moreover, contain a strongly libertarian message. Of course, I do recommend them.
Of the two novels, I prefer the first, Children of the Night. And so I will confine my review to this.
Children of the Night is set several thousand years into the future. Our own civilisation has passed away. Correction: our own civilisation has destroyed itself in some dreadful war involving the use of antimatter weapons. All that remains is a civilisation like that of the early middle ages, in which power is divided between the Church of Rome and a feudalistic empire that includes Europe and North America. Some technical knowledge has survived. There are, for example, flying machines. But all knowledge of technology is limited by the ruling class. This relies on a race of dwarves for the machinery it needs to fight its generally losing war of attrition with the Barbarians. It keeps the mass of people in darkness, allowing them nothing more in the way of technology than existed in Europe before about 1300.
The hero, Mark, is a 13 year old boy who works as the lowest grade of servant in Gloucester Cathedral. He was brought here after the Barbarians had killed his family in South America. His job is to help keep the place clean. He is a special boy, as he has telepathic powers that allow him to communicate with a pet rat. But he has nothing to look forward to in life beyond endless menial work and endless humiliation.
His life changes abruptly when Brother Gregor, one of the few monks to show him any kindness, is murdered. Everyone believes he is the latest victim of the Children of the Night – a secret society that is said to practise every class of abomination in its revolt against Church and State. Almost immediately after, Geneva Torvil arrives in the Cathedral. She is a young pilot who has been instructed to bring the great Baron Vassendreyl to a meeting with the Lord Bishop of Gloucester. Mark rescues her from a murder attempt, and they become friends.
Thus begins an adventure that will take Mark and Geneva to the far northern edge of civilisation to help thwart a conspiracy that threatens not only Church and State, but everything that is decent. They are joined by Calvin, a clever dwarf, and by Mark’s telepathic rat, Quicksilver. They learn about the rotten foundations on which their world rests. And they learn the true nature of the Children of the Night.
This is a book for children, and so all digressions and passages of description are ruthlessly edited. Nothing is allowed to come between the reader and a very fast-moving plot. Even so, this world of the future is clearly drawn. And there are brief but significant reflections on the horror of slavery and of taxes and tithes, and on the ennobling nature of trade.
Indeed, just because these are novels for children does not mean that they have nothing to offer adults. All the best literature for children works for children of every age, and these are no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both. And I recommend both to anyone who needs to buy presents for children, or who is simply looking for a good read on holiday this summer.
The novels can be ordered from Amazon.
NB – Sean Gabb’s new book, Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back, can be downloaded free from http://tinyurl.com/34e2o3. You can help by contributing to publishing and distribution costs