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Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grant

bzrk michael grant1 Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grant


In Michael Grants BZRK, theres a war taking place. A war at both the macro and nano levels.

In my house, whenever a Michael Grant book arrives, a similar war takes place. The battle to be the first to read it. Unfortunately, my fiance is larger than I am, and has rather a smaller to-read pile, so his supremacy in this area is unsurpassed.

For a book to appeal to my fiance, it has to be a prototypical boy book: so fast paced youll get papercuts from turning the pages, filled with gore and violence, and with all sorts of nerdy, techy things. Needless to say, BZRK'rated highly with him (he came to bed at 2am the day the book arrived to tell me so. Thanks for that).

The book

Pitched at a slightly older audience than the Gone series, BZRK'tells the story of two competing armies fighting an invisible war to which the wider public is utterly oblivious. The stakes are highmadness and death are two of the more pleasant outcomes of the battleand the pacing equally so. As Grant slowly inures us to his world, a sense of paranoia takes over: who is involved in the battle, and how can one tell?

Sadie and Noah are, although their recruitment is not through any particular desire of their own: Sadie joins the Berserk organisation after her brother and father are killed by the opposing side; Noah joins in part to avenge his brother, who has been institutionalised in the aftermath of his own involvement. In joining Berserk, both give up their identitiesfor their own safetyand are given a crash course in the manipulation of biots, creepy nanotech robots blended with DNA and thus a sort of extension of self.

Their mission? To take down the Armstrong Fancy Goods Corporation (a company whom I cant help but imagine as a resaler of Hello Kitty and other cute Japanese toys, or perhaps something similar to Moms corporation in Futurama), which is hell-bent on, well, basically taking over the world through the assassinations of key political leaders and the eventual fusing of individuals into a collective whole.

The novel switches between the machinations of the two groups, with plenty of fighting, trapping and double-crossing at both the macro and micro levels, and its a rip-roaring ride overall. The pacing is classic Grant, and isnt for those who like a quiet read accompanied by a cup of tea and a bikkie. In fact, youll probably come out panting.

That said, I did take a little while to get into this one, in part because of the way in which the book openstwo chapters that although retrospectively helpful in setting the scene are sort of diversionary as a beginningand also because I struggled to identify much with the key characters. This isnt necessarily through any fault of Grants, who does a tremendous job of slotting in the requisite characterisation in amongst all that battle, but I think more to do with my own tastes (my fiance, for example, adored this book through and through).

I should also note that BZRK isnt simply a book (nor is the book a standalone), so its perhaps not entirely fair of me to review it as though this is all it is. Grant has attempted to create a multi-platform storytelling experience that spans across apps, an interactive website, a game, and more, and I expect that a reader who takes advantage of all of this will enjoy a more comprehensive reading experience more akin to what the author intended.

(Also, nitpicky Russian major/Clockwork Orange'fan gripe note to proofreader: Anthony Burgess uses the term krovvy [from ''''','krov', meaning blood], not kroovy in his book.)

Thematic stuff

BZRK'may be brimming with explosions and literary special effects, but like all of Grants work, its a good deal more than eye-candy. Amidst the Michael Bay-esque action theres plenty for astute readers to get their teeth into.

The first is the very invisibility of the battle to outsiders and the threat that this poses. And given how much political resistance or violent action these days takes place in a way that is very much removed from the immediate physical sphere, its quite pertinent. Indeed, other than those directly involved in the Berserk activities, theres a complete lack of public awareness about whats taking place. Political and military decisions are made without the knowledge or endorsement of the public, which is something increasingly occurring in our world, where public involvement in politics is often little more than casting a vote at each election (and in the US, where voting isnt mandatory, it may well be less so).

This invisibility/distance also raises further ethical issues. When youre able to do battle in a way where youre not physically at risk, where youre pressing buttons or giving orders from somewhere far removed, would you make the same decisions that you would whilst engaged in hand-to-hand combat? Theres something dehumanising about making these sort of tactical decisions from afar (indeed, look at military terminology such as friendly fire; collateral damage; neutralise; pre-emptive strike and so on for some decidedly eerie euphemisms that point exactly to this), and Grant certainly doesnt hesitate to raise this as an issue. One of the first scenes of the book, for example, involves a plane being brought down in a packed sports stadium. Though there are three intended victims, the overall damage is far, far greater.

(Aside: Grant also makes an interesting point when he reveals the villain(s) of the piece as a pair of conjoined twins whose appearance is described as being as physically confronting. The emphasis on the visual when it comes to the villains and the complete lack of the same when it comes to the invisible nanotech is an intriguing contrast, with Grant seeming to indicate that people struggle to define or identify evil/amorality when it is not visible.)

To me, perhaps the most chilling aspect of these books is the degree to which individuals are stripped of their individuality and humanity in the name of the greater good. Mind control is silently and invisibly utilisednotably to subdue women and turn them into submissive and willing creatures robbed of their agency and autonomy. Bug Man, for example, uses his nanotech skills to do exactly this to his girlfriend (or sex partner, I suppose, since its not exactly a reciprocal relationship). The conjoined Armstrong twins seek to create a sort of utopian hive mind to rid the world of its differences and conflict, and of course, in doing so, everything that makes us human. 'Grant also touches on how a degree of amoralism and emotional absence is needed in order to succeed in the wars of the future: Bug Man is clearly rendered as an amoral character, while Vincent is described as lacking empathy and the ability to feel pleasurehe is cold, emotionless, and endlessly logical in his work.

Even the members of Beserk (the goodies) undergo changes that render them inhuman in various ways: theyre anonymised, given the names of deceased poets (unsurprisingly those who have met their deaths in awful ways) instead, and theres an expectation that theyll not only give over part of their bodies for nanotech coding, but also that theyll be prepared to die whilst carrying out the programs requirements. Theyre also in for the long haul: once theyre in, theres no turning back. And given that were talking about minors (read: child soldiers) here, this is a terrifying notion.


BZRK'didnt quite resonate with me in the way that his Gone series has, but I suspect that its more of a personal taste issue than any real flaw in the storytelling. Grant certainly delivers what he promises: plenty of action, a plot that doesnt let up, tech galore and some murky ethical musings, and if you enjoy those elements in your reading material its fair to say that youll enjoy this one.

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Rating: star Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grantstar Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grantstar Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grantblankstar Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grantblankstar Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grant (good)

With thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for the review copy

See our other Michael Grant reviews

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One comment

  1. Brenda'W.'Scott /

    Im curious about this one. Maybe I should try to read this to see if I would really enjoy this. Thank you for sharing! :)

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