Imagine that there is a secret war going on all across the globe fought by two distinct factions, each of which believes it is good while the other is evil. And, although no one on either side seems to know why the war is being fought or what’s at stake, the soldiers in the war take it all very seriously, surreptitiously hunting down and killing each other right under the noses of all of us nonparticipants. That’s the world presented by writer Trevor Shane in his debut novel, Children of Paranoia.
Of course, every war must have rules, and the war presented in this book has three:
- No killing innocent bystanders (nonparticipants).
- No killing anyone under the age of 18—no matter what side they’re on.
- No one in involved in the war under the age of 18 can have a child or else that child will be given to the other side.
Written in first-person in the form of the protagonist’s journal, Shane’s story is, by necessity, episodic; much of the action revolves around the protagonist going on assassination missions for his side of the war. There is never any further explanation for the war, which is actually a brilliant decision on the part of the author. By leaving the conflict vague, the reader can see the ongoing battle as a metaphor for the wars in the real world—whether actual wars (such as the one in Iraq) or wars of ideology (such as the perceived one between Republicans and Democrats). The way in which the characters on one side of the war demonize the characters on the other—even when they don’t really understand why—makes an astute observation about the way humans work in general. Let’s face it, we have a tendency to devolve into an “us” versus “them” mentality, and Shane uses his novel to dramatize that.
Shane explores those weighty ideas throughout the first half of his novel—which, coincidentally, was my favorite part of the book. The paranoid tension of the “soldiers” as they dispatched their various victims kept me interested, as did learning the parameters of Shane’s world and his secret war. After the protagonist becomes entangled with the love interest midway through the novel, however, the plot took a turn (one I won’t give away here) that caused the story to become a more typical chase story. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; if you’re looking for a story about two kids on the run from an army of killers, you’ll certainly like the second half.
Overall, I really enjoyed Children of Paranoia. For a first novel, Shane’s work here is impressive. He certainly knows how to stage an action scene and how to ratchet up tension. If you’re in the market for an exciting, propulsive read for a late-summer beach visit, Children of Paranoia would make an excellent choice. The novel will be released as a 384-page hardcover on September 8, 2011, by Dutton.