The Haven Revolution by Simon Lelic

The Blurb On The Back:

When pupils start going missing from a prestigious boarding school, Ollie Turner knows it’s a job for the Haven.

Below the city streets, the Haven is a hideout for kids, run by kids.

Ollie and the Haven’s Investigations Team put their lives on the line, going undercover to find the missing children.  But little do they realise that a deadly enemy awaits them – one with plans to destroy everything they hold dear.

You can order The Haven Revolution by Simon Lelic from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 2 months after THE HAVEN.

13-year-old Ollie Turner is now the group’s leader but not everyone is happy about it and around half the kids actively support Flea, who’s doing a solid job of trying to undermine and demean him at every turn.  Matters aren’t helped by the fact that they’re still in the abandoned underground station known as the lift raft, which is cramped and has poor air quality, making some of the kids sick.  Then there’s the fact that Lily (still grieving after the death of Dodge) is acting weird around Ollie and he can’t work out why.

When Jack loses contact with her younger brother Errol, she asks the Investigations Team to check out Forest Mount, the very exclusive boarding school for the offspring of the great and the good that he’s been sent off to by their step-father.  Errol had told Jack that he was worried about some strange things he’d seen at the school, and was afraid of the head prefect, Colton Crowe, a sadistic bully who threatens and blackmails the kids with the help of his prefect team and whose nasty rule is sanctioned by the equally cruel headmaster, Professor Strain.  

Ollie, Lily, Jack and Sol go undercover at Forest Mount to find out what happened to Errol and what exactly Strain and Crowe are up to so they can put a stop to it.  But what they discover is worse than they could have ever imagined and the fate of the country rests on their shoulders …

The second in Simon Lelic’s THE HAVEN SERIES for readers aged 11+ is another fast-paced action thriller filled with high stakes and jeopardy.  However, while Lelic does tackle some of the unbelievable developments from THE HAVEN, plenty more emerge in this book and it still suffers from a lack of character depth that leaves side characters as pretty much interchangeable and the antagonists are cartoonishly drawn such that I’m not sure I’d read on.

One of the things that really bugged me in THE HAVEN was how Ollie went from never having heard of the group to leading it in the space of about 72 hours, voted in by a group of kids, many of whom had never even seen him before because apparently he bought into and represented its values.  It was just so implausible that I was genuinely in half a mind on whether to pick this book up but to be fair to Lelic, he does pick up on this straight away by highlighting how Ollie’s got a heap of problems as a result.  

What I liked about the sequel was how Ollie is plagued by entirely justifiable self-doubt about in his abilities as leader and specifically his failure to find a new base of operations for the group (not that he spends any time looking for one or even delegating the task to anyone else in this book).  Lelic also does well at showing how he’s further undermined by Flea, who lost out on the vote and has been a thorn in Ollie’s side ever since – constantly undermining and demeaning him to the enjoyment of his flunkies.  Ollie’s further fleshed out by his worry about why Lily seems to be avoiding him and while I’m not convinced by the romance angle that Lelic seems to be dangling here, it does at least give Ollie some depth – especially in the scenes where he allows his hurt and confusion to come out, resulting in the pair squabbling.

However, the problem with having Ollie get this character development is that the side characters (who I already felt were thinly drawn in THE HAVEN) are shown up more in comparison.  Again, being fair Lelic does give some background on Jack here by providing the back story on her family and her relationship with the naive but loving Errol and I’ll give him kudos for highlighting how some people treat those with disabilities as a burden that’s to be gotten rid of.  Unfortunately, given that we’re told how rich Jack’s parents were, it seems weird that there’s no scrutiny of what her step-father did or why no one seems interested in discovering what happened when she escaped care, although I did buy Errol’s willingness to believe the explanation that their step-father gave him.  Lily and Sol, however, get zero development here – Lily remains just the grieving potential love interest, Sol is merely pure side kick, Song is still just the kung-fu expert (which seems a little too stereotypical for me) and Flea the arrogant jerk who happens to be pretty strong.  I don’t know if the issue is that there are too many characters for Lelic to focus on given the short length of the books but if we’re going to care about them, I need them to be something a little bit more and right now that’s not there.

Lelic continues the OLIVER TWIST allusions in this book and, again, I’m a bit bemused as to why or where he’s going with it.  If it’s to highlight a coming twist with Aunty Fay then it’ll be disappointing to signal it so obviously because I don’t think the target readership are likely to be oblivious to that.  Speaking of Aunty Fay, one of the things about the world building here that continues to annoy me (aside from why she remains with the group when every other adult had to leave) is the relationship between ex members with the group and the support they give.  If they’d helped as many kids as they seem to have done and were successful in educating them, I’d have thought that more assistance could have been sought from them for a new home but that all just goes unsaid.

In terms of plot, Lelic keeps the action moving quickly, although I’m not a fan of the cliffhanger chapters as it just seems like a cheap way of maintaining tension.  There is one big twist in the plot that did not surprise me but, for me, goes to the whole issue I have with it in terms of having to suspend disbelief about things that simply couldn’t happen.  Lelic does well at creating a sense of oppression within Forest Mount and the themes of cruelty and bullying are well done, but Crowe and Strain are pencil thin antagonists who never rise above caricatures, which is a critical issue in the case of Crowe given developments at the back end of the book.

I’m conscious that this all reads like I’m dunking hard on the book.  I need to stress that I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just not my jam either and I think that there are other children’s authors out there who are producing more entertaining children’s action thrillers.  I’m also conscious that I’m reading this as a grown-up and the argument could be made that the target audience wouldn’t pick up on the things that are bothering me.  However, given that I was a pretty picky reader at aged 12, I suspect I’d have noticed the same points as I highlight here.  Ultimately, I’m not invested enough in the characters or their situation to rush to read the next book in this series but your mileage may vary.  </lj-cut>

<b><u>The Verdict:</b></u>

The second in Simon Lelic’s THE HAVEN SERIES for readers aged 11+ is another fast-paced action thriller filled with high stakes and jeopardy.  However, while Lelic does tackle some of the unbelievable developments from THE HAVEN, plenty more emerge in this book and it still suffers from a lack of character depth that leaves side characters as pretty much interchangeable and the antagonists are cartoonishly drawn such that I’m not sure I’d read on.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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