Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

The Blurb On The Back:

Welcome to the deadliest show on Earth. 

Our country has turned its back on inclusion: the descendants of immigrants have been denied status and security and must sell their children to a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of ravenous lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster.

The ruling class – the Pures – visit the circus as an escape from their structured, safe, high-achieving lives – to experience pure entertainment with a brutal, bloodthirsty edge.

Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, attends on opening night and falls under the spell of Hoshiko, a tightrope walker and the star attraction.  But as he steps beyond the sparkle and spectacle of the circus, to reveal the horrors that lurk beneath, can he find the courage to resist, to rebel, to help end the cruelty and the carnage? 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

In an alternate future Britain is divided into two classes: the Pures (the white ruling class who control the political and economic institutions and keep the wealth for themselves) and the Dregs (essentially all of the ethnic minorities who are forced to work for or entertain the Pures and in return are treated as sub human slaves).

Ben is the teenage son of Vivian Baines, an ambitious woman whose hated of the Dregs intensified after two of them tried to kidnap Ben and his twin brother Francis and she’s now the Dreg Control Minister.  When Vivian gets free tickets to the opening night of the Cirque (a circus staffed with Dreg performers made famous for their dangerous tricks and popular with Pures because of its high injury and fatality rate), Ben is keen to go.  He wants to see the famous tightrope walker Hoshiko (known as the Cat) after being mesmerised by a hologram of her performance.

Sold to the Cirque by her parents, Hoshiko and the other performers are treated like dirt by the cruel ringmaster, Silvio, and know that every night in the ring could be their last.  Hoshiko hates the Pures for what they’ve done but maybe Ben can change her mind as he begins to realise what the Pures have done …

Hayley Barker’s debut YA dystopian novel is a blunt polemic with an unconvincing vision of the future (it’s a future where the technology is not much more developed than our own) and which suffers from two-dimensional lead characters whose inevitable romance is not earned while the plot hits every dystopia cliché.

My big issue with the book was that neither Ben nor Hoshiko are particularly convincing characters. In Ben’s case, I didn’t buy his nagging dissatisfaction with the Pure regime (even allowing for his conversations with Dreg housekeeper Priya) and there’s a lack of sophistication in the portrayal of his family (notably twin Francis who’s little more than a grunting Dreg-hating psychopath but Vivian is also one-note).  Hoshiko has a bit more depth to her and her relationships with Greta and Amina are better drawn, but her sudden conversion to fancying Ben didn’t convince me.

The plot touches every item on the dystopia checklist, which made it far too predictable (with Ben’s naivety serving as a means for driving the action forward).  The action scenes are fine but uninspiring and, for me, Barker tries too hard at showing the horror faced by the Dregs while this is a futuristic setting where the technology is not much different to that enjoyed today, which meant it never quite rang true for me.

The book ends with a set-up for a sequel but to be honest, I won’t be reading on, although I would check out a different work by Barker.

SHOWSTOPPER was released in the United Kingdom on 1st June 2017.  Thanks to Scholastic for the review copy of this book.

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