The Record Keeper is a visceral and thrilling near-future dystopia examining past and present race relations.
After World War III, Earth is in ruins, and the final armies have come to a reluctant truce. Everyone must obey the law—in every way—or risk shattering the fragile peace and endangering the entire human race.
Although Arika Cobane is a member of the race whose backbreaking labor provides food for the remnants of humanity, she is destined to become a member of the Kongo elite. After ten grueling years of training, she is on the threshold of taking her place of privilege far from the fields. But everything changes when a new student arrives. Hosea Khan spews dangerous words of treason: What does peace matter if innocent lives are lost to maintain it?
As Arika is exposed to new beliefs, she realizes that the laws she has dedicated herself to uphold are the root of her people's misery. If Arika is to liberate her people, she must unearth her fierce heart and discover the true meaning of freedom: finding the courage to live—or die—without fear.
An unusual and complicated book, requiring some time and thought to process and understand.
I was a bit confused at first, because there is so much left unsaid that you just have to glean from actions and events, from conversations, and from the inner monologue of the main character, Arika. At times it felt like listening to a conversation between two people from a country wholly foreign to me, making it a challenge to put everything in context.
I wasn't sure how I felt about the book for much of the time I was reading it, but by the end I was fully engaged with the story. It creeps from dry to horrifying before you really notice what's happening.
The book ends on the high note of a clear turning point in the narrative arc and most questions are left unanswered. That means you should go into this book expecting to continue with the upcoming sequel if you want to know how everything plays out.
The Record Keeper grips you from the first page, sucking you into a deftly crafted dystopian future where liberation is barely even a dream. This moving story of a young woman's struggle against mental and physical bondage, tells an important new-old tale and challenges us to begin the fight for freedom in our community and in ourselves. It's the start of a much larger story, and one well worth reading.
There was something so compelling about this story, even though I often felt like I had missed critical parts of a conversation while I was reading. It's a post-apocalyptic world, and Agnes Gomillion's protagonist is one of several young people training to become Record Keepers in Kongo, the country/territory in part of America that was responsible for producing the food for the last remaining people on the planet. Arika starts the story proud and exuberant and strong as a baby, and by the time we rejoin her in her teens, she's been abused and subject to a gruelling amount of study. She's not prone to confiding in or leaning on her other Record Keepers-in-training, and is used and abused by one of the teachers, Jones, an English, who has plans of her own in what is a mysterious but clearly racially charged, violent and strange situation in the Kongo. I kept finding myself asking the author to make things a little clearer, but as Arika is our viewpoint into this world and she has a very limited understanding of the political and other matters of what's happening in Kongo, and Kongo's relationship with the rest of the habitable world, I kept thinking that things would eventually be revealed. And some is by the end, but the book ended with much still left unknown. I liked what I did read here, so I'm awaiting the next installment.
The Record Keeper follows Arika Cobane who lives in an area in the post World War III Earth called Kongo. She's been training for 10 years to become a record keeper and keep the history records of her people. She's nearing the end of her schooling and hoping to become a Senator of the Assembly. This post-apocalyptic world consists of the remains of what is formerly America split into three distinct territories with The English in the north; The Clayskin in the central area; and The Kongo in the south. Each faction has an Assembly of elected Senators to guide them following the rules laid out in an agreement called the Niagara Compromise.
Arika experiences heavy trauma as a child upon entering the school that breaks her rebellious spirit. To counteract said trauma she becomes the model student inciting the doctrines to the point where she actually starts convincing herself that the doctrines are valid. Through this story we see her awakening as she finally looks beyond her privilege and realizes the suffering her people are facing. She gains an understanding of how the Niagara Compromise freely lists all of the darker skinned Kongo's supposed weaknesses but lists very few for the white skinned English. She also knew the school textbooks censored history but she did not truly understand to the extent.
The Record Keeper is a solid dystopian tale full of twists and strong but not overly complex world building that will have you craving for more. And since a second book is releasing next year I'm curious to see how things continue.
If you would like to hear my non-spoilery thoughts on Record the Keeper, read on;
First Thoughts ✨ ———————— I found the first chapter very confusing, as I do with must dystopian books. It showed our main character Arika as a child, and how brave and strong she was. She was ready to fight for what she believed in. Then, we jump to her being ‘thought a lesson’ - this is where my mind was like ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ this book was closely to linked to it where it was a horrible world they lived in, but it focused on a completely different aspect of life. Here the workers are repressed and the people in the book are trying to stop that.
Writing ✍🏻 ——————— Agnes’ writing is so beautiful. I haven’t read such wonderful, well thought out writing in a while. It was way different than the easy to read, breezy YA Fantasy writing. This was beautifully dense and unforgettable!
Characters 👧 ——————— The characters for me weren’t the best. I’m a very character driven person and I felt like this book, though it put emphasis on the struggles of the characters, they felt very similar to me. I think, the characters weren’t at all the focus of the novel (except Arika) they felt very the same to me. I loved Arika and how strong she became. Her character ARC was done very well.
Final Thoughts 💭 ———————— I gave this book 3.5 stars after all as this has been my favorite Sci-Fi esc novel I’ve ever read. This genre of dystopia really just isn’t for me. If you love dystopians and you’re looking for a brutal and dark read, this one is for you!
Arika is a very dynamic protagonist. She used to be very rebellious and became a toady after Teacher Jones crushed her spirit. A lot of the book is about whether or not she will return to being rebellious. Topics this book brought up - what does it take to be a revolutionary, the role of school and revised histories in upholding the status quo, the importance of memory to identity, creating family in a disruptive violent environment, the usefulness of divide and conquer.
Agnes Gomillion’s The Record Keeper is a post-apocalyptic ambiguous dystopia, in the mould of Octavia Butler. World War III has decimated earth, leaving only a strip of land in the former United States and Canada fit for human habitation. This land has been divided into three segments, where three sets of people reside: the Kongo, the English, and the Northrise. Labour is divided strictly according to the terms of a document called the Niagara Compromise, according to which the Kongo peoples’ obligation is to farm the land and produce food (the Kongos are themselves hierarchically divided into farmers/labourers and “record keepers” (a broad stand-in for the intellectual class)).
However, brewing rebellion and an unexpected plague threatens to unravel the Niagara Compromise, which has so far been kept in place through a combination of consent and extreme violence. The story follows the adventures of Arika Cobane, a record-keeper-in-training, who goes from obedient student to something else entirely, as she begins to learn - and question - more about the history of her people, and of the Niagara Compromise.
The Record Keeper has many of the familiar themes of the sub-genre (rigid post-apocalypse hierarchies, scrambled memories, violent suppression of dissent, rebellion); it is not, however, a derivative work, and is well worth a read. This is also the first book of a series, and it will be interesting to see how Gomillion carrie the story forward (disclosure: I am reading Book 2 for an Interzone review); in particular, Book 1 ends on a rapid - almost rushed - note, leaving a significant part of the slack to be taken up in the sequel; consequently, it is perhaps one of those books that can be best assessed in light of succeeding volumes.
Solid debut novel! So many beautiful, hard, complicated themes woven through the text that painfully mirror past and present America. The story left some story lines open which may just be the reality of life or maybe a sequel? (I need to know more about William.)
This author is brilliant and her passion for justice shines through on each page. She's not afraid to expose the complexities of racial injustice....if anything that exposure brings freedom to both the characters and the reader. Where do we find ourselves within it's pages?
This book is not for everyone. It's gritty and raw, it made me uncomfortable, and it made my heart hurt. This is a book of our times, and of what could end up being our future.
"You don't belong to that skin. You got to look up."
"...we must remember to be miserable. We must make a terrible fuss."
The world as we know it is gone. Humanity has pretty much destroyed itself, and in an effort to survive, the remaining armies formed a truce. The rules and laws of this new world are explicit and to be followed "for the greater good." Everything is supposed to be for this greater good, including "separate but equal" factions. There are sciences backing up the many weaknesses of the people and why they need to be controlled.
Arika is a First Brother and Record Keeper, chosen to make decisions for her Second Brothers, and then record their stories before they pass away. We are thrust into Arika's world and view from page one, a view which undergoes several changes over time as she begins to realize perhaps her school teachings are wrong. Her fear and struggles with her inner demons are so relatable, and while there were times I found myself disliking her, it was only because I saw parts of myself I don't like. Through this story, we see this internal fight as Arika tries to do what she feels is right, not just for the greater good, but for the good of her people. With a new war looming, Arika has to defeat her own demons in order to help free her people.
Many times, a scifi/dystopian novel feels very fantastical and while fun, not very real. The Record Keeper knocks you flat on your face with situations that are very real and very possible. It's scary, and I stated at the beginning of this review, left me feeling very uncomfortable.
The Record Keeper is Agnes Gomillion's debut novel. I don't usually read sci-fi as it's a genre that daunts me as i'm not really into science and struggle with scientific words but this book was extremely easy to read, i found it a quick and easyish read and didn't get put off by the wording or plot.
I loved the concept. I was entranced from the first page. Arika’s world is crafted to be real and stark. The books main plot is around racism and it's very frank and dark. The people in power are white and English. The workers are from the Kongo and they are not treated with any respect or kindness. Arika the main character is the kind of person who follows rules after her childhood when she tried to stand up for herself she was locked away to starve so she now tries to stay out of trouble and wait for things to change. However she is strong and brave and becomes a voice for the people. Every person in this story has a role to play and if it's not followed they threaten the world they live in. I enjoyed this book because it's completely different to anything i'd ever read usually, i usually stick to straight forward fantasy or contemporary romance books and this was a breath of fresh air for me. I loved the main character Arika and watching her character develop over time.
I would like to thank Titan Books who provided me with an ARC copy of this book for my honest review. All reviews and opinions discussed here are my own.
I did struggle with this book in all honesty. I found that there was quite a lack of world building and were just thrown in and told to make sense of what was going on. If I don't understand the world or the way it is built I really struggle to enjoy the book. I just couldn't quite find my feet with this world and at times it left me very confused and I had to skip back and forth every now and again.
One of the main reasons I rated this book a two is the characters. I am extremely character driven and if I don't connect with the characters in the book I can't connect with the story. I wasn't particularly gripped by any character or their arc during the book, and often I was just confused about their motivations. I did find myself very frustrated with Arika throughout and at times he just became slightly annoying. She was so focused on her own aims that I felt she was just a bit lost in the wind at times.
There's no denying that Gomillion is a beautiful writer and really thought out the plot. There are some really important themes explored throughout this book and I would recommend it to people even though I didn't really connect with it.
After World War III, the Earth is a different place. It has been ravaged by the hi-tech weapons the warring factions used against each other and very little habitable land remains. The rival armies were forced into a reluctant truce, before the planet was completely destroyed and an agreement called The Niagra Compromise was drawn up to offer a way for the survivors to move forward.
The World now consists of a portion of what was formerly America and is split into three territories - The White English in the north; The Brown Clayskin in the central area; and The Dark Kongo in the south - with an Assembly of elected Senators to guide them. The Compromise laid down strict rules about the role to be played by each territory, and the social status of the people that live within them.
According to recorded history, the people of Kongo volunteered to become the "bread basket" of the new world, at the time of The Compromise. Only land in the south was deemed suitable for cultivation, and only then with much hard labour, so the people of Kongo became land workers for the greater good. The people of Kongo are split int two orders - The First Brother and The Second Brother. The First Brother are of lighter skin and considered more intelligent and are educated - it is their role to rule the The Second Brother and ensure crop quotas are reached, for the greater good. The Second Brother are of darker skin, considered of low intellect and undertake the hard labour required to feed the peoples of the new America. The brutal work forced upon of The Second Brother means they live very hard lives. To help them accept their lot in the greater scheme, each worker is offered a pill every few years which wipes most of their memories - this is called The Rebirth and is considered a natural part of life for The Second Brother.
Arika Cobane, is born into the Kongo House Cobane. She is a First Brother and is selected to become a Record Keeper - one of the prized few who record the history of The Kongo. Her years of training as a Record Keeper offer her the chance to become one of the elite - a Senator of The Assembly - a prize almost within her grasp now she is valedictorian and nearing the end of her schooling. But then, a new student arrives at The School House - one who causes Arika to question all she has been taught about The Compromise and the sacrifices that have been made in the name of peace. She realises that the laws she has been brought up to follow are the cause of misery for her own people. Furthermore, a deadly fever has arrived in Kongo, killing workers at a alarming rate, and rebellion is stirring among The Second Brother. Arika must reawaken the fight she used to feel within her own fierce heart - before the fight was beaten out of her by the vicious and hateful Headmistress Jones. She must choose a side in the war to come, discover the true meaning of freedom and learn to live without fear. Is Arika the promised "One"?
Wow, this story completely blew my mind! It took me a while to piece together the scattered parts of my brain before I could sit down to write this review! This is a compliment to the skilled story-telling Agnes Gomillion has wrought in this debut novel.
This is a sophisticated and complex story, which will appeal to a much wider audience than the Young Adult market is is aimed at. It strikes me that this is a kind of cross-over story, in a way. This is a finely drawn dystopian world, reminiscent of the cruelties and rigid social structures of the ilk of Margaret Attwood, but it also promises the excitement and rebellion offered by Stephanie Collins in The Hunger Games books. Believe me, I have read a lot of dystopia over the years, and this is not easy to achieve. Arika makes an interesting heroine, but she is not without fault and at times, you will find yourself begging her not to do something she is misguidedly bent on doing - of course, she doesn't listen and does it anyway! She is stubborn and sure that she does not need the help of others to get what she wants, but she learns better and you will be with her, egging her on, throughout her journey.
I have read that Agnes Gomillion loves the idea of "roots" in a story and this novel certainly has that. Its origins lie in the Slave Trade days, but setting the book in a dystopian near future, gives it a freshness that carries it above an ordinary slave story.
Yes, the arrogance of a race that considers itself superior to the workers it has consigned to do its dirty work, not only by law, but by false science, comes across strongly in Gomillion's writing - drawing on its historical roots. However, by setting the story in the future, this has given her the freedom to introduce additional horrific elements - such as The Rebirth inflicted upon The Second Brother. Details like this will make you sick to the stomach and ache for rebellion.
I hate to give away spoliers, so I won't be doing that here, but be assured that the ending of this book - the first in this new Record Keeper series - is stirring to the soul. I cannot wait to read more of the adventures of Arika and discover the future waiting to be written for the people of Kongo.
Right from the outset, I could tell that this book was going to be a fierce call-to-arms. The narrative voice of protagonist Arika is SO STRONG. The whole book basically reads like a rallying cry, as Arika discovers that what she has always believed is not necessarily right and goes on to make a powerful stand for the rights of herself and others.
There is a LOT going on in this book. I don't know if it's a standalone or the beginning of a series; honestly, I could make a case for either. But I was very impressed with how much the author managed to pack in to these 464 pages. The theme of racism is explored via various avenues, remaining solidly at the core of the novel no matter what direction it takes.
I will say that I found the world-building slightly lacking. The book dives straight into the action and the political machinations at the beginning therefore took a lot of concentration to get my head around. I would have liked to have known more about how the world came to be the way it is in this novel; nothing is ever really explained and I felt like some of its potential wasn't fully explored. Again, maybe that's coming in a future book but I don't know.
Despite the slightly patchy world-building, I found this to be an extremely compelling book. It was impossible to not root for Arika on her journey and many scenes were very hard-hitting. This is a read that will stay with me for a long time.
Overall, I'd recommend this one cautiously if you like your dystopian reads on the more challenging side.
The protagonist of Agnes Gomillion’s The Record Keeper, Arika Cobane, prides herself on her knowledge of the Compromise and the laws of a post-World War III world. She’s in the running to be valedictorian at the brutal school that is training her to be a Record Keeper, with her eyes on the prize of becoming a senator for the Kongo—a dark-skinned people who have mostly been relegated to slavery. She has been told all her life that Record Keepers are a step above the rest of the Kongo people. Arika has been told a lot of things, to be honest. It’s only now that she’s about to take her Final Exam that she finally has the blinders pulled off her head to see how much of what she’s been told are manipulative, racist lies...
I felt just kind of blah about this book. It doesn’t seem particularly memorable. I would have liked more details about the end of normal life and start of the Kongo, Clayskin, and English population groups. How did those particular groups come about and why did each end up with their place in society? The separation felt artificial to me.
In a post-apocalyptic world, the only surviving habitable land is a slice of the east coast of what was once North America. After years of bitter fighting along racial lines, the three surviving superpowers -- the white English, the Asian Clayskin and the black Kongo -- sign a treaty known as the Niagara compromise, which gives the three races separate but equal rights. Well, "equal" because we all know what that really means. The English are tasked with researching agricultural advances, while the Clayskin serve as merchants and tradesman. The Kongo themselves form the bulk of the agricultural labor, though stratify themselves further with the ranks of First Brother and Second Brother, along the lines of physical characteristics. The First Brothers include Record Keepers like our heroine, Arika of House Cobane, who live lives of relative privilege. They're supposed to look after and champion their field hand brethren, the Second Brothers, but -- at the risk of repeating myself -- we all know how that works.
Arika studies at the Schoolhouse run by the sadistic Englishwoman Jones (she has a first name but I couldn't be arsed to look for it because she is the poster girl for white feminism and, obviously, sucks.) Arika's overweening ambition is to graduate as valedictorian so she can become a Senator, thereby escaping the arbitrary racial rules of the nation and securing herself an unassailable position from where she can truly advocate for her race, First and Second Brothers alike. She clings to logic and order without realizing that both have been framed for her by a society that wants to keep her docile and conforming. When a new student comes to the Schoolhouse and jeopardizes her standing, she begins to realize that there's more to the world than she'd accounted for, inspiring the spirit that Jones had tried to break so long ago to unbend itself anew.
Okay, first let's talk about this novel's few but unignorable flaws. First, it is desperately underwritten. This is Agnes Gomillion's first book, and she will look back on it in the future with a wince, not because it's bad (it's actually really good) but because she'll know where she should have done better, taking more time to elaborate on plot points and interior lives and emotions instead of rushing from one cool idea to another. I absolutely understand the excitement to get this rich, vivid world out of one's brain and on to the page, but there are a ton of what feel like missed moments that should have been dwelled upon instead of quickly presented then moved away from. This could easily have been a book twice its size that I would still have devoured with glee.
The second comes at the end of the book, and involves torturing an unconscious person. Yes, that person absolutely sucks, and yes, I believe that revenge isn't necessarily evil or unwarranted, but come on. I don't go for the honor card often, but it's not heroic to inflict pain for the sake of inflicting pain, and it's cowardly to do that when the other person can't fight back at all.
Anyway, those aside, this is a fascinating dystopian take on the rule of divide and conquer perpetrated historically by white Europeans and perpetuated by their minority subjects upon their own bodies. It's got excellent historical chops as well as sci-fi bonafides: I loved the idea of the Helix and the fangirl references to Frederick Douglass. I'm very interested in seeing where Ms Gomillion goes with this next, as I'm intrigued by the whole Obi Solomon thing as well as by the forces that seemingly lie coiled in Arika's breast. Sequel please, and soon!
Well that was an intense read. Fantasy, politics and real-world issues blended together in a very powerful way. This author has a lot to say and boy did she say it well!
Arika is an amazing protagonist, that first chapter blew me away. Absolutely heartbreaking and moving. This book has so many layers. I loved the supporting characters and how they challenged Arika. Her character arc throughout the book is fantastic. She’s such a complex person and I really admired her strength and resilience.
It’s a fair size book at just over 400 pages but honestly the story felt too short. I wanted more. I’m assuming there will be a second book and I’m super excited to read it. Outstanding.
Thanks to Titan Books for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.
It’s a very rare thing that I DNF a book. Unfortunately I was unable to finish this one. I thought it sounded like such an interesting read and that it would be something I’d enjoy but I just really struggled with it.
It was very slow paced and even though I got through nearly half of it, it still felt as if nothing of note had really happened. I tried so hard to read it, hoping that it would get better and I’d get drawn in a bit later but after almost 200 pages it wasn’t any more gripping than at the beginning.
I can see why a lot of people will enjoy it and I feel that the themes throughout are still as relevant now as they have always been but this book just want for me at all.
Thank you Titan Books for kindly sending me a copy to review.
Agnes Gomillion's debut novel, The Record Keeper, will astound, shock and touch readers in many ways. It's a powerfully written and visceral story about freedom, racism, oppression and resilience that will stick to the reader's mind, because it has a deep level of resonance that sets it apart from other novels of its kind.
What makes The Record Keeper excellent is the author's strong approach to dystopian fiction. The story is clearly rooted in what has happened in our world, because the author depicts a world in which people suffer from arrogance, inequality and oppression by the white English.
The Record Keeper tells of Arika Cobane who is a First Brother and has been selected to become one of the Record Keepers whose task is to record the history of the Kongo race. She's a valedictorian at the Schoolhouse and is about to graduate. She has set her eyes on becoming the Senator for the Kongo at the American Assembly. However, when a new student, Hosea Khan Vine, arrives at the Schoolhouse, Arika is exposed to new beliefs and ideas that make her realise that the laws she has followed all her life are the cause of her people's misery... Meanwhile, a dangerous and deadly fever has arrived in the territory and a rebellion is stirring among the Second Brothers...
This marks the beginning of a sophisticatedly complex and visceral story that will impress readers. I was personally taken by the subtle complexity of the story, and I was fascinated by how strong a character Arika is and how fluently the author writes about her life.
I was impressed by the worldbuilding, because Arika's world is stunningly realised with many details. The world has been ravaged by World War III and the only habitable mass of land is located on the East Coast of former North America. The new world has been divided into three terroritories: Northridge (a place where the white English live), Clayskin (an area inhabited by the brown Asian people) and Kongo (the southern area where the dark-skinned Kongos live). The Niagara Compromise has given each of the territories separate but equal rights. The English are agricultural engineers and researchers, the Clayskin are household servants, manufacturers and merchants, and the Kongos are agricultural workers who are divided into First Brothers and Second Brothers. According to history, the Kongos had volunteered to cultivate the land for the greater good of all humanity, but their situation is strongly reminiscent of slavery, because they're being brutally and systematically controlled and manipulated by the white English.
Arika is an interesting and well-created protagonist. The author writes excellently about Arika's life, childhood and training. Arika faces hardships and brutality in her life, but she perseveres and is resilient. She has been brought up to follow the laws, but doesn't realise that the laws are actually designed to oppress her people. The coming of a new student marks a change in her life as she begins to realise that the laws she has obeyed are manipulative and wrong.
Headmistress Jones at the Schoolhouse is one of the most sadistic and vicious characters I've ever seen in this kind of dystopian novels. The author's descriptions of her brutality and viciousness are truly disturbing, because she runs the School House with hard discipline and crushes all kind of resistance with her actions.
I found the concept of the Rebirth unsettling, because it makes people content and docile. Those who have to experience it will lose much of themselves and forget things. They're not the same people anymore, because the Rebirth changes them in a profound way.
One of the things that I noticed when I read this novel is the author's passion for justice and equality. She writes well about these things and makes the reader think about what is happening in the world with her gripping writing. It's also evident that the author is interested in history, because some of the happenings reflect what has happened in our world.
I like the author's writing style and find her prose satisfyingly literary. Her way of writing about the happenings from Arika's point of view works well and makes the reader eager to find out what happens to Arika.
The Record Keeper can be recommended to readers who are familiar with Margaret Atwood's dystopian novels, because it will resonate with fans of Atwood's novels. Although this novel has been written for mature readers, there's a possiblity that experienced young adult readers will also be intrigued by it.
Agnes Gomillion's The Record Keeper is a well-crafted debut novel that impressed me with its powerful story. I can recommend this novel to readers who love dystopian stories and want to read speculative fiction that makes them think. It's excellent dystopian fiction that deserves to be read and felt, because much of the story will move the readers due to its visceral contents.
Agnes Gomillion’s debut novel The Record Keeper is a book that examines race relations both past and present in a near-future dystopian North America. The third world war began with a computer virus that decimated technology and ended with the world cold and empty, the people heavily divided. Now, the Kongo people are tasked with cultivating crops for the rest of humanity, or what is left of it.
Arika Cobane is a member of the elite amongst the Kongo. At seventeen she is weeks away from graduating and taking her place far away from the fields. But a new student, Hosea Khan, arrives and with him come the sort of ideas and dreams Arika stamped out when she was just a child and the brutalities of the world became apparent.
The Record Keeper is an ambitious first novel. The future world that is it’s setting is a cold, harsh one. While the war was 170 years ago, it’s effects are still felt. The setting is fully realized – it has a history and carefully balanced politics. Yet, for all the vastness of the world, it retains a closed off, claustrophobic feel. Even when Arika doesn’t necessarily feel trapped within the walls of the school, it is palpable to the reader.
The cast is made up of quite a number of supporting characters. These include Arika’s schoolmates, teachers, members of the working class, rebels, and politicians. Allegiances and enemies are rather clear cut. Characters are memorable, with many standing for something greater than themselves.
However, I found myself often frustrated with Arika, our main character. For the majority of the first 150 pages or so she was extremely passive. Story beats happened around her, with Arika sticking stubbornly to doctrine despite her own misgivings. I appreciate this as a literary tactic—it makes perfect sense and is in line with her character as to why Arika was like this. Yet, I found myself growing frustrated with Arika, especially as most of the other characters were stronger in belief.
The pacing is a slow look over the course of a couple of weeks of Arika’s life. In a lot of ways this is a slice of life story set right on the cusp of a changing world. Even far away from the politics of the Senators change can be felt. Things that normally wouldn’t affect Arika are suddenly right on her doorstep. And, suddenly, she is forced to confront her own past, the doctrine she repeats so often, and how her actions affect others. However, some sections felt a little too slow. Certain conversations with classmates relating the latest news or informing the reader of the history of the world began inching their way towards the info-dump, which did slow down the story.
The ending was rather abrupt. In one sense, it wrapped up the story very nicely with Arika’s character arc finally hitting the right notes. On the other, I wanted to know what happened next. I can’t help but be just a little disappointed that we will not get all of the action I assumed would be within this novel. Still, what this book did it did well.
This book is a great look at race relations and oppressive rule. But it is also a story of fighting for equality, of standing up to oppressors no matter how strong they might be, and, maybe most importantly, a person facing not only the truth of their beliefs but what their beliefs and the fear to stand up for what they believe is right can do to those around them. If you are a fan of dystopian novels The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion is a book you will not want to miss.
It’s funny how this book grabbed my attention: it was like someone tapping my shoulder and asking a question when I haven’t even taken my earphones off. This book kind of interrupted what I was doing and demanded to be read – right then, right there. (I ended up taking it on holiday with me and, let me tell you, this is NOT a light, summery read so don’t make the same mistake. I mean it in the best possible way, though).
The Record Keeper is a scary eye-opener. It’s a horrific possibility and an excruciating reminder. It’s a horrendous past and a revolting future. It’s frightening in the way that it wakes a rooted fear that we could let history repeat itself in the future and add technology and science to make everything a thousand times worse. The Record Keeper is very complex and brave and ultimately groundbreaking. I’ve never read anything like it before (and I literally spend my life reading dystopian stories).
It’s not easy to get into it. It might take you a few chapters to actually understand what’s going on and what kind of world you were thrown into this time. It’s also very frustrating when you realise that the main character has been mind-washed and trained to obey and respect every law that is supposed to keep the society she’s in balanced. But it’s glorious to see how she develops and becomes exactly what she needs to be to make a difference (and to compensate all the nail-biting, wall-punching, nerve-racking moments she put you through in the first place). But the world is so well-crafted and the writing is so fitting the whole story becomes irresistible.
This is a book about racism, supremacism, and slavery – three themes that have been explored time and time again in dystopian fiction. The difference here is that The Record Keeper still managed to bring a whole new concept into the mix: what if slaves could stop seeing themselves as slaves with the help of technology and medicine? What if their desires, their instincts and even their thoughts could be taken away and turn into nothing so they could be exploited without complaining until they die?
That’s why The Record Keeper is so scary – because it brings another ‘what if’ to the table, an unthinkable hypothesis, something so horrendous it forces the reader to think of the darkness in humanity getting even darker. Agnes Gomillion did a brilliant job at conjuring my sense of justice, without even needing to write a historical fiction novel about the millions of victims of slavery throughout our history. This sci-fi novel proved to be as efficient at honouring slavery victims as any memoir written by one. If you love thought-provoking dystopian stories, you shouldn’t miss out on this one.
'The Record Keeper' is Agnes Gomillion's debut novel. It is described as a 'fresh new take on the afro-futuristic science-fiction genre', which made me curious about the book but also wonder whether it was going to appeal to my tastes. I haven't read a lot of science-fiction and it's not normally a genre that I choose.
The story is set in 170 AE (After the End). Earth has been left in tatters after World War III and a fragile peace has been met. The main character Arika, is taken from a community nursery when she is very young. She is destined to become a member of the Kongo elite but before then she has to survive the years of training that lay ahead of her under the watchful and sometimes brutal eye of Teacher Jones. Arika becomes an exemplary student, always ready with the correct answer in class but never quite forgetting her earlier rebellion when she was seven and tried to rally her fellow comrades. Her carefully constructed existence and beliefs come under threat when a new pupil arrives at the school and cracks start to form. Arika is no longer sure if she can follow the path set out for her as Hosea opens her eyes to the truth about the society they now live in.
One of the book's main themes is racism. The white English ruling class have the dominant place in society and the Kongos' job is to work the fields and provide food for them. The balance of power is uneven and black people are suppressed by the ruling class. They are made to go through a Rebirth, where they have to take a pill that reprograms their memories and makes them forget their pasts. This is simply a tool that is used to control them and ensure they stay in their place. Everyone in the story has to fulfil their role and obey the law or they threaten the peace of society.
This was an interesting and unique read but I did struggle to fully engage with the story and the characters. I think a large part of that is down to the fact that there was nothing familiar that I could grasp onto and I found the world building a bit lacking. I couldn't quite find my feet in the new world that Gomillion had created and this meant that I often couldn't follow all the nuances of the plot. I think that is probably down to the fact that science fiction isn't my favourite genre, so if you do like SF then that won't be a problem for you. Arika was an extremely strong protagonist and her courage and determination were definitely qualities that I admired. Her journey is not easy but she is tough and fierce and gradually becomes a new voice to be listened to in a world where people have long been quietened.
Finished this book in the interest of an honest review. The epigram invokes the American literary tradition of the slave narrative, and though the frame for the book is post-apocalyptic America, the allegory of race and slavery is familiar. Maybe to the point of cliche, with a caste structure driven by greedy enablers, splitting the Black workforce into field and house.
Our heroine Arika falls on the house side of that split. After the awful traumas of her youth, she's about to graduate from school and take her place in the power structure. But as The Record Keeper progresses, Arika learns the awful truths behind that structure. Her defining characteristic appears to be bland naivete, Arika's so book-smart that she's blind to politics and the brewing war below the surface.
A couple chapters really sing, the ones about personal stories, where the Record Keeper is truly keeping truth alive. Many other chapters approach the point of unreadability, either due to implausible plot holes or Arika's utter credulousness. There are a couple points where the story is stopped by other characters' wordy explainers. And the plot never finds a groove, veering wildly from liberation narrative to high-school drama to martial-arts bildungsroman to post-apocalyptic power game.
There are some redeeming qualities here, and I don't want to downplay the importance of work with a central Black heroine. But the plot borders on awful and this story seems to spend more time reinforcing cliches than transcending them. Recommended only for uncritical YA readers, with an appetite for post-apocalyptic liberation stories, who elevate vibe over scene. One-star review narrowly missed.
High school drama is not what I think of for dystopia. A good chunk of the story is Catholic school of hell, so-and-so said this, and I have to study/not betray my friends. Want a healthy dose of teenage angst? You got it.
Gomillion doesn't let it be the entire story (thank the universe), yet I was struggling to feel empathy for Arika's world. Many characters have shades of pettiness, deception, and ruthlessness. The ones who don't are shoved to the side and/or have something horrible happen to them. Oh, dystopia! I suppose. Yet it edges on the emotional disconnect for me. A terrible scene happens and I feel empty about it. Shame when certain turns are meant to be moving.
I enjoyed how the narrative hurls us into its unforgiving world. The class divide and its set of rules were interesting. Yuck to slavery and racism though. I was wondering how much else is in decay that didn't go mentioned. Spirituality perhaps?
Perhaps it's due to Arika's limited scope, but I would have enjoyed further discussions about what else exists in the world not just America. Instead, any character talk about the lore boils down to breaking up an element of Arika's programming. Break down to make free, yeah. Becomes repetitive when her lack of self-awareness kicks in again. It's realistic and believable, sure, yet somewhat vexing when her thoughts went back to the school again.
Nice debut, Gomillion. By the end I was wondering where the story will go from there. And considering the gripes I had at the start, that was an impressive feat.
"My faith said I could manage my world through wit. I was valedictorian, all-powerful. And yet that night, I could not fix the fever. No matter how I breathed for them, they died terribly one by one."
picked this up by chance and not gonna lie, this imagined world was so much fun!
this book revolve around arika and her story as she slowly realises that the world she knew is surrounded by lies and betrayals.
as with any world building books, the characters, social construct, politics etc. were quite confusing, and many pages were spent on introducing this world through Arika's lens. we knew only what she knew and her misconceptions were also ours. the starting was tiring to read just because there was so much to take in and remember,, but of course as the book progressed, and arika started learning more things, pacing picked up and the story got more exciting. arika as a character,,, HMM,, not sure how i feel about her but at moments when shes really entitled and selfish i get annoyed. and its honestly not her fault because of the social conditioning and education received but yeah,, yikes. she definitely character developed throughout so thank goodness. i hated that the other characters were developed minimally, and we just never get to find out their backstory since this is entirely arika pov and she lowkey self centred :( i hope to see more of the other characters in the next book
3.5 stars for this really interesting world. (-1 for the slightly awkward pacing and -0.5 for the unlikeable character)