By: Agnes Gomillion
Release Date: June 18, 2019
Publisher: Titan Books
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
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.