London, England, present day. This is the world as we know it, but with one key difference: medical science has found a way to remove diseases from the sick. The catch? They can only transfer the diseases into other living humans. The government now uses the technology to cure the innocent by infecting criminals.
It is into this world that Talia Hale is born. Now sixteen and the daughter of a prime ministerial candidate, she discovers that the effort to ensure that bad things happen only to bad people has turned a once-thriving community into a slum, and has made life perilous for two new friends.
When Talia’s father makes an election promise to send in the police to crack down on this community, Talia can only think of how much worse things will be for her friends. Will she defy her father to protect them, even if it means costing him the election?
Transferral , the debut from Kate Blair, is a chilling look at a world gone wrong because of its efforts to do right.
I’ve always be drawn to the stories that suggest “what if…?” Those tales of a future that is slightly different from our own, perhaps because of a butterfly-effect style action, or because of a discovery not made in our own world. Imagine, then, my delight at starting Transferral, Kate Blair’s debut book where the criminal justice system does not depend on incarceration, but rather on infection for punishment. In Blair’s world, even the most minor crimes are punishable by illness – shoplifting might get you a cold, or perhaps a minor flu, while more serious crimes will find you on the receiving end of polio or Parkinson’s.
Talia Hale is one of the lucky ones. Her father, a politician, obviously loves her dearly, and only wants to protect her from the bad things in the world, especially after the tragic loss of her mother and sister. I liked Talia, as she was a complicated character. Used to a world of privilege, she is also haunted by her inability to save her family, and this has developed into a strong moral duty to ‘do right’ whenever she can. It was fascinating to see how Talia’s original views, so predetermined by her father and his advisors, started to splinter and develop into something richer and deeper as she began to learn more about life outside of her safe havens. Talia, for all her impulsive actions, genuinely wants to make things right, and this draws her into a world she could not have imagined, changing her perceptions and her own philosophies at the same time.
For me, the moral concepts presented by this judicial system were equally fascinating. I appreciated that Talia had to consider how she felt about learning that so-called criminals were actually young runaways, or healers attempting to help those who were ill to recover.There were more than a few shades of grey about this process, and I thought that the author had a deft hand in exploring each one without becoming preachy or pedantic. Little touches by Blair, such as the revelation that the government had removed the use of anesthetic during the transferral process so that criminals were forced to endure great pain while receiving their punishment, added to the divisive nature of this process. It made me wonder how I might feel about this process, and how I might assess what would be a “fair” sentence, especially with complications such as disease resistance and a lack of medical care to complicate matters.
The world-building was authentic and contained enough realism to present-day London that I could picture Talia walking the roads and paths towards Barbican, and visiting the various sites around the city. The politics were also extremely well presented, and the political machinations of her father’s advisor, Piers, could have been pulled from any current campaign in the last forty years. The class distinctions are all-too-real, especially for London, although I would have thought that prevalence of mobiles might be more common with the so-called criminals in the Barbican. One thing I must comment upon is the relationship between Talia and her father – it is so great to read a YA novel where there is a solid connection between father and daughter. Too often that relationship is reduced to sitcom status, and while there are moments where the two of them have their misunderstandings, I always believed that they loved and cared about each other above all other actions.
Galen and Tig were another great relationship, and showed how siblings can be supportive of one another. I would have loved to have had more time with them, either through their backstory or in an epilogue to see how they turned out. While the ending seemed a little rushed (I would have liked to have learned a bit more about how the Transferral program was going to be changed), I thought that Blair did an excellent job of allowing Talia to evolve and become a more nuanced character, and for her father to redeem himself and find his way back to the good man he was always supposed to be.
Transferral would be an amazing book to hand to that reader who is looking to broaden their horizons, and to that kid who thinks that they ‘don’t like to read’ – teens will follow Talia’s progression from by-the-book to shades of grey without any problems, and the book will leave them thinking about issues of social justice and class long after the covers are closed.
Transferral was provided by Dancing Cat Books in exchange for an honest review. It is available now for purchase from your favourite online, bricks & mortar or independent bookseller. ISBN: 9781770864542, 194 pages.