Kids call it The Compound – an endless wilderness enclave where teens rule and every day is a fight for survival. A world out-of-time where an elaborate culture has arisen out of the violence and scarcity, and all live under the thumb of unseen masters who have ultimate control.
15 year-old Marcus Riley is The Compound’s latest enrolment. A delinquent, kidnapped from his inner-city apartment; he wakes up alone in the wilderness. Left with nothing but the clothes on his back and a cryptic note in his pocket, it seems only his wits will keep him alive… but for how long?
Publisher: StoryFix Media
Author: Christopher Webster
Young Adult books are an interesting genre, often telling coming of age stories. You tend to find that they’re either stories of romance and young love, or stories of survival and overcoming overwhelming odds. Whilst New Horizons does have a small amount of teenage love within its pages, it very much squarely falls into the latter category.
Taken from his normal life and thrust into a strange place, forced to survive whilst some unseen group monitor and manipulate from behind the scenes, at first New Horizons had something of a Maze Runner vibe to it. What sets this apart though, is the fact that it’s taking place today, in the modern world.
There’s a strange facility/compound that’s being run by a shady organisation, like in other YA books yes, but it isn’t some dystopian future where such things can be waved away as ‘how the world works now’. The Compound exists in an America that exists now, in a society that seems to be pretty much exactly like ours. And this is one of the most intriguing things about this book.
The characters are from the ‘real world’, as it were, they’ve been to high school, they talk about music and fashion, they reference social media and popular television shows, and this makes the book more refreshing than you’d initially think. It’s not a world ravaged by disease or global disaster, or a society ruled by the elite whilst the regular people live in despair; this is us as we are now, which makes the way the characters react and interact more relatable and interesting.
The lead character, Marcus Riley, is an interesting hero for the story. You see, unlike other YA stories that are in a similar vein, I absolutely hated him to begin with. Unlike characters such as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games or Thomas in The Maze Runner, Marcus begins the story as an arsehole.
With his parents having recently divorced, he hates his father, constantly lashes out at his mother, acts as a spoilt brat, and generally is the kind of kid you’d never want to have yourself. The worst part is when he becomes responsible for putting another kid in hospital, potentially dying, his response is that it’s not fair on him.
I honestly thought that I was going to dislike the book because of how much I really hated Marcus, but Webster manages to have the character grow and evolve over the course of the story in a very believable way, almost to the point where you’ve not realised how much he’s changed until he steps up to be the selfless hero. His level of growth makes him stand apart from other YA leads, who tend to start off as fairly good, heroic people.
The story itself has plenty of twists and turns in it to keep it interesting, and whilst it does have some degree of mystery around what is happening you don’t feel cheated come the end when you get a lot of answers, yet still have questions needing resolution.
New Horizons is the first part of a trilogy of books, yet ends in such a way that it could have been a one-and-done self contained story. However, this isn’t a bad thing by any means. It actually opens the scope for the second book in exciting ways as I genuinely have no idea where the story is going to go next.
With interesting and well crafted characters, a story that feels very fantastical yet grounded in a recognisable and real world, New Horizons is an interesting first instalment in a new series of Young Adult stories that I’m sure will prove to be very popular.