The Forcing by Paul E. Hardisty

It is am absolute pleasure to be opening the blog tour for the brand new novel by Paul E. Hardisty, The Forcing. I love the author’s writing and have been waiting very patiently for this book to be released. Once again he has not disappointed. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invite and to publisher Orenda Books for supplying an early copy of the book for review. Here’s what it’s about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 16 February 2022
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

Lured by rumours of tropical sanctuary, a disparate group of men and women escape their inhospitable exile to seek freedom, in a near future where civilization has collapsed … A cataclysmic, clarion-call climate-change thriller from one of the world’s leading environmental scientists…

Civilisation is collapsing. Frustrated and angry after years of denial and inaction, a ‘government of youth’ has taken power in North America, and deemed all those older than a prescribed age responsible for the current state of the world, and decreed they should be ‘relocated’, their property and assets confiscated.

David Ashworth, known by his friends and students as Teacher, and his wife May, find themselves among the thousands being moved to ‘new accommodation’ in the abandoned southern deserts – thrown together with a wealthy industrialist and his wife, a high court lawyer, two recent immigrants to America, and a hospital worker. Together, they must come to terms with their new lives in a land rendered unrecognisable.

As the terrible truth of their situation is revealed, lured by rumours of a tropical sanctuary where they can live in peace, they plan a perilous escape. But the world outside is more dangerous than they could ever have imagined. And for those who survive, nothing will ever be the same again…

My Thoughts

Well … if this book doesn’t make you think long and hard about the impact we are having on the environment and the planet as a global society then nothing will. Set in an all too close future, The Forcing is a frank, scary and absolutely engrossing forecast of how the future might look if we don’t start to take the environmental devastation that we are witnessing on a daily basis quite a lot more seriously. Soaring temperatures have made swathes of the world uninhabitable, those that aren’t already completely underwater. Wars are being fought for the right to own the world’s rapidly depleting resources, and a new kind of Government is running North America, still one of the most powerful countries in the world. If you are young enough then you are conscripted to fight against countries who were once allies. If you are older … Well, those unlucky enough to have been born before a proscribed date face an altogether darker fate.

And this is where I get stuck with this review. I’m not quite sure how to put into words the impact that this has when reading it. Yes, at its core it is a thriller, one where we follow a small group of people, principally David Ashworth, known as Teacher, as they are faced with the impacts of ‘resettlement’. This in itself is full of drama, not all people who are selected quite as willing to obey as Teacher appears to be. This is the first real clue as to how dark and combative society has become, and as we slowly learn more about what this resettlement really means, the more shocking and intense the book becomes. This is no shuffling off of the elderly to care facilities, this is the forced displacement of a whole generation who have been deemed responsible for causing the climate disaster, and for denying the truth of climate change for far too long. The situation they are placed in, shared apartments and houses in a drought stricken area, might seem troubling enough, but there is far worse to come. The author skilfully paints a picture of a town in absolute decline, ground too dry to successfully grow crops, a kind of indentured labour in which the residents are made to work for little to no gain, and a growing sense of resentment and rebellion which can only lead to devastation.

There are many scenes of action and tension in this book, one which caused me to hold my breath, seeing how they would play out, others that got the adrenalin pumping. From protest marches that end in tragedy, to scenes where objectors are dealt with in a more direct and entirely unthinkable way – they are, after all, still American citizens – these scenes are short, sharp, intense and very carefully portrayed. Piracy, war and a kind of marshal law in which proof of guilt or innocence is irrelevant all inform this story to varying degrees. There is no sensationalisation of the scenes, nor are they gratuitous in anyway, but the violence cannot be glossed over and the impact of conflict, whether overseas or closer to home, is felt quite keenly. We have all seen what greed can lead to under normal circumstance, but this is greed born of a desire to survive, pushing the stakes, and the emotions, sky high. You can feel the tension bubbling under the surface through the whole novel, but those moments when it breaks free are charged and effective.

One of Paul E. Hardisty’s true skills lies in his ability to create such clear imagery and to describe his setting and characters so perfectly that you feel you are almost in Brownwood with the displaced. I was drawn to the character of Teacher very quickly, not just because the story is told from his point of view, but because he is given a very humble and human persona, one accepting of his fate, but still defiant at heart. He loves his family in spite of many reasons that would suggest he shouldn’t, and he cares for others, even people he has only very briefly met. There is something about the warmth of his character that made it very easy to be drawn into the story. Kwesi and Francoise were also two characters who made a real emotional impact on me as I read. Their backstory, the fact that Francoise had given up her right to freedom to stay which her husband, and all that follows, is really touching and it would be a hard heart that is not moved by their fate. That’s what the author’s hauntingly beautiful, impactful narrative ensures, producing strong feelings about all the people we meet, be it for a short time or longer and whether they are good people or those, such as Argent, who are most definitely only interested in saving themselves.

As for setting, the author has always had the ability to transport me to places I have never seen, creating sights and senses so vivid they could almost appear real. This is definitely the case with this book and the arid, ravaged landscapes that he describes give a sense of the devastation that the world has experienced. The stark contrast between this and certain other scenes in the book, even the early chapters where Teacher is just about to move to his new life, is jarring, reminding us of all we have to lose. Written from a place of experience and knowledge, this feels not like doom mongering, as some might want to dismiss it, more an almost certainty if things do not change. We see temperatures escalating year on year, natural fires increasing in scale and frequency. The melting of polar ice caps, the near extinction of many species of animal, and the gradual erosion of the coral reefs … This book is set where this decline has passed the point of critical, and where humanity has to deal with the consequences of their inaction. It is a very sobering thought.

But this is not a book that is all doom. There is, believe it or not, a sense of hope that infuses the novel too. There are two threads to this book. The majority of the story is told from Teacher’s point of view, showing people the hear and now of his existence and the fight that faces him as he tries to find his own route to survival. But there is another, undisclosed narrator, one whose story is interspersed amongst the main action, allowing us to see that all is not necessarily lost. There is almost a cyclical aspect to what unfurls, and whilst life is most definitely not lived as we know it, there is a hint that a reset, a return to a simpler, less toxic lifestyle, may be possible. It adds beauty, light and anticipation to a story that could otherwise be quite dark.

What you take from this book will vary. On one hand this is a high stakes environmental and dystopian thriller, in which greed and the desire for power still manages to corrupt and lead to tragedy. With scenes of intense action and jeopardy, it will keep readers who are looking for the more turbulent side of fiction quite happy. This is also a story about what people are willing to risk in order to survive, in a future where all the cards are stacked against them. It’s a story of family and of loss. Loss of love, and loss of freedom. But above all else, it’s a reminder of all we have to lose by ignoring our own impact upon the environment. It’s a heady mix, but one which has stayed with since I turned that final page. A stark, gripping, often poignant, but undeniably thought provoking read and another absolute winner. Loved it.

And it’s getting one of these.

About the Author

Canadian Paul E Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a. Paul is a university professor and CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The first four novels in his Claymore Straker series, The Abrupt Physics of DyingThe Evolution of FearReconciliation for the Dead and Absolution all received great critical acclaim and The Abrupt Physics of Dying was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and Telegraph Thriller of the Year. Paul is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia.

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