This Fragile Earth Review

by Benjamin Williams

Posted on 15th March 2021

This Fragile Earth Review

In the near future, a changed London where AI is the way of life, Signy and Matthew lead a difficult life where they've only really stayed together for the sake of their six-year-old son, Jed. Then, the technology that runs their world stops working. Usual methods of paying no longer works, so it's back to physical money where people have it. Phones, smart door locks and electric cars stop working. Electric and gas are cut off, then water stops running and the pollination drones that are vital to the world start behaving weirdly. People go missing and soldiers take to the streets as London is no longer safe.

As the blurb states, "a shocking incident sends Signy and Jed on the run, desperate to flee London and escape to the small village where Signy grew up", which kind of ruins a part of the book as you then know something is going to happen to Matthew. The tagline of "how far would you go to protect your family" should say "how far would you go to protect your child" because it certainly doesn't stretch to protecting Matthew, as she's arguably to blame for his demise.

The story is told from Signy's perspective and follows her thoughts, which has some good advantages later in the book, but to begin with, it didn't always work with some random sentences that just don't flow with the rest of the narrative so it took a bit of getting used to. In the second half of the book though, this style really shines and helps add to the worry and panic of what's happening around her.

That life could go to shit so quickly because of peoples reliance on technology is very plausible. As someone that works in IT, tech is my life. And as we move forward with things and technology becomes smarter, simple things like door locks can become a problem if they are relied on too much. This is also where I have another problem with the book though - everything electronic seems to stop working except for what runs on a battery, so phones will work (and be useless), laptops and you'd think cars would too, but no. All-electric cars stop, despite being battery operated. I focused on this a lot, which bothered me.

Then there's Signy. She is not a likeable character. Being in her head, so to speak, you get a sense of what she's like. Yes, she's a mother who just wants to protect her son. But she also lies to him constantly. She tells herself that she's a good person and then a few sentences later she's refusing to give a pregnant neighbour any of the water that she's stored up before relenting and giving her a cup's worth. A random family she bumps into shares their food with her and Jed and she lies about some jelly beans so she doesn't have to share them with the family who were so kind to her. She's impulsive, makes rash decisions, panics a lot (which is understandable) and refuses to accept that Jed has a serious disease until it's almost too late. Constantly calling Jed "love" though really grated on me.

I also struggled with the sons age. Jed is described as being six years old, but at times seems younger and will then speak like he's much older. My nephew was six not long ago and it's not how I imagine a six-year-old to be. Although this is a future world, where things are wildly different technology-wise so I can give it a pass as who knows how their school teaching is. That or he's a genius kid. I had no idea how old he was though and kept flicking between visions of him being younger and older than he actually is - I should have read a bit more of the blurb before reading! Jed however, is the star of the book.

It seems like a lot of negatives, but as the book went on, it got better as you get into her mind more. The random sentences where her mind wonders became part of the frantic nature of the book and showed the stress of the whole situation. It also becomes clear that she has no idea of how much time has passed, as a few times she says that something happened yesterday only for Jed to correct her, which she refuses to accept. It makes looking back on certain parts with a different light than with the initial read. Was day five of the technology blackout really day five, or was it something like day seven? She's not looking at things with a clear mind and that becomes more apparent as you go through the book.

Looking back at it now, it makes a change to read a book where the main character is far from perfect. She has a lot of flaws, even if she can't see them or sees them after she's done or said something that isn't what a good person would do, and it's highlighted by the family they meet on the motorway on their journey to find her mother. They are lovely, a couple with children who all love each other and want to share their food with Signy and Jed because they recognise how the world has gone and that people need food to survive. Her thoughts, good and bad, are laid bare throughout and despite how she's clearly losing her mind as the book progresses, her bond with Jed is abundantly clear through all the problems and emotions.

With the state of Signy's mind at the end, you end up questioning how much of the finale is actually happening and real. Maybe it all is, maybe it isn't. Who knows, and I like that. Signy's problems and unlikeability make the journey through her thoughts worthwhile, especially since Jed is likeable and you feel sorry for him more and more as the book goes on. For the first quarter of the book, I thought I was going to struggle to finish it. The second half I ended up reading in an afternoon. It's a book that if you stick with it, the style grows on you and significantly adds to the story. Sure, there are flaws in the book, but ultimately I'm glad I stuck it out.

Rating: 4/5

As a side, if I'd read this pre-COVID, I'd have said there's no way people would descend into chaos as quickly as they do in the book with panic buying and general dickisness. We all know better now though with how people quickly cleared the shelves in great quantities, leaving people unable to buy food or toilet roll.