Review published on July 30, 2017.
It is 2028 and climate change has led to droughts and water shortages across the world, while gaining access to ever dwindling supplies has resulted in an increasing geopolitical tension. Terrorists are attacking infrastructure on the ground, as well as targeting the OFWAT satellite tracking system – the world hovers perilously close to a global war for water. Late on a Friday night, at his home in Scotland, Sim Atkins, a graduate in Satellite Communications who works for OFWAT, receives an urgent call to go into work where he discovers that an important satellite has suddenly vanished. He has an idea about what is happening and so is called down to headquarters in Birmingham to discuss this. His theory is believed and he is offered the opportunity to fulfil a long-held dream to join the prestigious Overseas Division, and to seek out who is behind all this dangerous activity. His delighted enthusiasm is not shared by Freda Brightwell, an experienced agent who is less than pleased to have inexperienced Sim as her new partner. When their first mission results in a valuable airship being destroyed and those responsible escaping, Sim and Freda have a strong motivation to follow the trail and redeem themselves. Their adventures take them across the world as they gradually uncover a conspiracy to divert major sources of water in the Himalayas, on which the Indian sub-continent relies.
This is an action-packed story with numerous, swiftly changing timelines. Initially I found these switches rather confusing. However, as the story progressed a pattern stared to emerge which filled in the background to the situations Sim and Freda found themselves in and I stopped feeling that they disrupted my reading. The plot-development was taut and exciting and there were moments when I found my anxiety levels rising as the protagonists found themselves in grave danger. As I am not usually inclined to feel emotionally involved in such gung-ho activities, I think this is a tribute to the fact that David Barker has created very likeable characters in Freda and Sim (although my one caveat is that I found some of his stereotypical male fantasies rather boring and juvenile!) so I found myself caring about what happened to them. I loved the fact that Freda slowly divulged parts of her childhood and her past through references to numerous films and that Sim, often totally bemused by this, at one point dismissed “Star Wars” as an ancient, two-dimensional film! In fact the author’s strong characterisations, of even the most minor of his characters, was impressive. So too was his ability to evoke a sense of time and place in his writing – to the extent that I felt hot and thirsty as I joined the characters in the desert scenes, and uncomfortably cold and hungry as I trudged with them up the snow-covered mountains! Although there was a “James Bond on speed” quality to the fast-paced action, I was able to suspend disbelief when necessary and remain immersed in the clever story-telling – and for anyone who knows me well, that in itself is remarkable! This is David Barker’s debut novel and its sequel, Rose Gold, is due to be published next year – and, following my unexpected enjoyment of Blue Gold, I’m likely to be tempted to read it!
I wouldn’t normally be attracted by a futuristic story (when I chose it as a book to review I didn’t know that it was!) but this is set in the very near future and the storyline is all too credible. During the 1980s a friend and I often talked about the possibility that the next world war would be fought for control over water. In some ways the idea seemed almost too frightening to contemplate then; however, the signs were already there that people in the west were too inclined to see clean water as a right rather than as a precious resource. This book certainly brings into focus the fact that this is not a resource that can be taken for granted and that we have to act now to preserve it – in fact the OFWAT agents’ motto to “Serve, Protect, Quench and Ration” would seem to be a sensible one to adopt. David Barker’s notes, which contain links to numerous websites for anyone who wants to learn more, add an excellent extra dimension to this fictional story. I hope that this easy to read but thought-provoking book is one which will be widely read and that it will, as he hopes, spark off thought, discussion and action. This is certainly a book which would make an ideal choice for reading groups.
Linda Hepworth 4/5
Blue Gold by David Barker
Urbane Publications 9781911331650 pbk May 2017
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