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The New World Order

by Ben Jeapes

(Corgi, £5.99, 432 pages, paperback, 5 January 2006. David Fickling Books, £12.99, 441 pages, hardback, 4 November 2004.)

Review by John Toon

cover scanBen Jeapes' latest novel takes a similar premise to Harry Turtledove's 'Worldwar' series and does it, well, more briefly. And better. Invaders arrive on Earth to find the locals already at war; with their superior technology, the invaders hammer both sides indiscriminately but end up uniting the humans against them. Except that these aren't lizard-men in spaceships, but red-headed Holekhor who've come from another world through the portal they call Okh'Shenev (it'd be wrong, so wrong of me to suggest that this is the Holekhor for "Stargate"). They are armed not only with machine guns and airships but also witchcraft, their special Wise cadre tapping the Earth's ley energy.

And they haven't all arrived at once; a scouting party was sent through some fifteen years earlier, but most were lost or went missing, and the general went native for a while before recovering his memory and returning home. His name is Dhon Do, although he was baptised into the Christian faith as John Donder during his "native" period. He still has a soft spot for the "New World" and now he's returned ahead of the invasion to warn them. Unfortunately the "New World" is at war with itself -- it's England, it's 1645, and King Charles and Oliver Cromwell and their armies are too busy fighting each other to prepare for the Holekhor invasion.

On the alternate history plausibility scale New World Order scores low, but Jeapes isn't sloppy with the story. His Cromwell is not just a portrayal but a study of a man who was devout but determined and practical enough to overthrow a king he found fault with. King Charles here also has his own nobility and dignity, although his son is a nasty piece of work. The YA focus character is John Donder's half-human son Daniel, who has grown up in the foster care of the village priest in a world prejudiced against him. Because interestingly, the English have been aware of Holekhor refugees infiltrating their society for several years since the portal was opened -- they call them "Hollykor" or, more pejoratively, "trolls" -- and Daniel's distinctive looks mark him out. He and Dhon Do are both complex characters, and the relationship that develops between absentee father and outsider son makes for engaging reading. None of them are out-and-out wrong-doers, so it's almost a relief when a hissable villain in the form of the Holekhor ruler turns up towards the end of the book.

There's action a-plenty, but it's bloodier and grimmer than the space opera of Jeapes' previous novels. In particular there's a harrowing scene at the start of the second part when an evangelical band of Holekhor Wise puts down a village that won't surrender to them. Mostly however the action follows Daniel, and through him his father, and through them both the activities of Charles and Cromwell, between whom Dhon Do tries to broker an alliance.

Another intelligent and lively novel from Ben Jeapes. A section at the end caps the story with historical notes and a revelation that you may guess before, but which you should still find entertaining. Now available in paperback.

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