Cover Image: 84K


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Oh, how I struggled with this book!

Storytime first. I once knew a man, son of some very rich parents, he went to my university. Once, while out, he parked in a non-parking area - I told him he couldn't, he replied that it was fine, it just cost more. Yes, the fine for parking in a non-parking spot was just a "cost" to him. And in a world where fines for crimes exist and bail is set in monetary amounts, the concept of a world  where crime is fine as long as you can pay  doesn't seem like too large a leap.

On the other hand, despite a fantastic premise, I'm not a huge fan of crimes against women serving to motivate the journey of someone else. It's not quite that cut and dried in this book, but it's a little too close for me to feel entirely comfortable. This is a story that needs telling, because the world it describes is much to near to our own, but I do wish it hadn't come at that cost. 

But this is not a comfortable novel, nor should it be. This novel exists to make you uncomfortable, to cause the reader to start thinking about things they've taken for granted, to make you realise that slippery slopes start off slowly. This is a novel that wants to get under your skin and make you think, and it absolutely met that goal with me. So unusually, despite not entirely liking this book necessarily, I came away thinking it did just what it intended to do.
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Cat is an excellent writer, & such a sharp sharp wit. I’ve been her editor for short stories she’s written for my anthology & she’s always smart, surprising & just brilliant.
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In 84k, World Fantasy Award winner Claire North imagines a dystopian future where a private organization known as The Company controls many aspects of daily life previously handled by the government, including crime. Instead of the regular judicial system many of us are familiar with, each crime is assigned a value. If you can pay the penalty, you go free. If you can’t then you go to work in Company-owned industries until you’ve earned back the amount. Which means if you have enough money you can literally get away with murder.

Theo is one of the auditors in the Criminal Audit Office who assigns these values. He assesses each crime and its effect on society then, using very specific breakdown, decides exactly what the penalty will be. And for the murder of Dani Cumali, the number he arrives at is £84,000. But this time Theo can’t let it go with just another bank deposit. He was the one to find Cumali’s lifeless body and the killer standing over her. Determined to find out what happened to her, he starts digging and discovers there may be even more at stake than the murder of one girl. It’s a compelling narrative, and Theo, who has some secrets of his own, faces a number of moral dilemmas on his mission to get justice for Dani.

This is one of those dark and disturbing dystopian novels that really gets under your skin. It’s a version of the future that touches on so many of the issues we face today, and those moments make it feel all too possible. We’ve already seen some of the drawbacks of privatization of public services, especially prisons in the US, so the idea that the whole criminal justice system could become a for-profit industry doesn’t feel so far fetched.

One thing that some readers may find off-putting is some of the formatting choices North made throughout the novel. Some sentences are left unfinished, others break into multiple lines. It can make for a more challenging read, and at times I’m not sure what it was supposed to accomplish. I did eventually get used to it but others may not.
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An interesting scenario, with diferent storylines. The problem is that one of this storyllines is not as interesting as the others, and it affects to the reading experience.

A review in spanish:
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What if every crime had a value? And as long as you could pay up, you were a free man? In a world abolished of human rights and the rich can get away with murder, literally, we follow Criminal Audit Office employee, Theo Miller. His job is to catalogue every offence and make sure the crime matches the payment, discounts are even offered for circumstances such as if a ‘lowlife’ was the victim or the offender turned himself in. If anyone is unable to pay for their crimes, they are sent to the ‘patty line’ to pretty much becoming a slave for society. Even though the Government are still in power, it is really ‘the Company’ that run the show. Although he has spent years trying to remain anonymous, a figure from his past could jeopardise everything he has tried to hide, when they turn up murdered. Putting a measly $1 value for her life is the final straw and he sets out to end a world he can no longer stay quiet in.

Claire North is an icon when it comes to the fantasy and sci-fi universe! With books such as The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and The End of The Day winning countless praise and awards, the hype around this book was insane and so the pressure was on!

The world itself she creates is absolutely astonishing and coupled with her writing style, you truly feel as if this could become a reality. Unlike most science fiction, this novel’s premise was a lot closer to real life workings, allowing for you to truly picture yourself within this dark world. Her attention to detail leaves you mesmerised and somewhat haunted from start to finish. When imagining this world, it does give you a feel of a 1984 by George Orwell kind of society.

The book jumps between different time periods, making sure you don’t lose focus on the true story at hand. Although, this can become a little confusing at times and leaves you rereading pages to figure where we are in terms of time. However, this lack of order really made sense with the plot of the novel, making it just as unique as the story itself.

The character Theo progresses so well throughout the novel. At the beginning, he is seen as somewhat a kind soul who just wants to live a normal life, but as we get further through the story, we learn that this not entirely the case. Whilst admitting he will do anything to get his daughter, we start to see more and more what he is willing to do to get what he wants, showing he is just as dark as the world he lives in.

Overall, this book was an insane ride from start to finish. Although I did worry if it would live up to the hype of her other works, Claire North did not disappoint with her new novel. She has really tapped into a section of the science fiction genre I didn’t even know we needed until now. I will warn that this is definitely a heavy read and you may find yourself needing to walk away to take what Claire North has thrown you. However, for anyone looking for an action-packed book, I think you have found your answer!
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I read an excerpt of this book - the first five chapters were available on Netgalley. The poetic style, the mysterious atmosphere and the general dystopian view enthralled me and I couldn't wait to read the entire thing.

As soon as Netgalley and publisher Redhook Books sent me an ARC of the book, I dove right in.

The near future of '84K' is a world driven by money - it can make you and break you. Every possible service imaginable (police, hospitals, etc) can be accessed only by money. You need a subscription for everything. Not only that, if you have committed a crime, all you need to pay is an indemnity. No need for prison in the economy-driven dystopia.

Calculating the indemnities for all these crimes in the United Kingdom is the Criminal Audit Office, which is where we meet our protagonist, the man called Theo. Theo Miller is every person's personal nightmare - an office drone with no life and no personality. There's a reason for that, and we will find out eventually. Theo makes himself hard to remember and easy to forget, which makes his encounter with Dani Cumali extremely unfortunate; because Dani Cumali knows exactly who Theo Miller is. And so kicks off the events of this book, where Theo finds himself swept into a greater conspiracy that may unravel the fabric of this society. All for the want of a daughter.

I haven't read any of North's books, either under this pseudonym or as Catherine Webb, but there is no denying the beauty of language that resides in this book. '84K' is never better than when the author is describing the characters' everyday lives - be it the humdrum nature of Theo's auditing, or the unpredictable life aboard Neila's boat, Hector. There is a tangibility to how this reality is painted, and that is precisely why, after reading the first five chapters, the finished product feels like a bit of letdown.

When North delves into the latent horrors of this world - that anyone regarded as less worthy can end up spending their entire lives on the 'patty lines' (bonded labour for big companies); that the rich can continue committing any and every crime because they are the only ones able to afford the indemnities; that indemnities are lower if the victim is an immigrant, a patty, etc.; and that beyond it all there are the ragers, the screamers, the zeroes, who live on the fringes of society - it makes the book come alive. The trouble is, partway through Part 1, the book devolves into pages-long exposition, and Part 2 is an even more serious offender of that. People spend prolonged periods of time explaining their life stories to Theo, for little reason other than... plot purposes.

The author also relies heavily on the use of ellipses. Many conversationalists falter, and ellipses add a realistic quality to dialogue, but in this book, I often felt like the author didn't know how to finish the sentence, so she just left it as is in the hopes that the reader would fill in the blanks. Except, we didn't have enough information to fill in the blanks, and it made reading a joyless experience.

Far too late into reading did I realize what this book was trying to be - '1984' with the action of 'Taken'. There is all the pretension of '1984' yet with little of the clear-cut gravitas. It's also overlong, mostly because of the exposition. Comparing two books to each other is a sin, but after a while the parallels are unmistakable. The biggest problem is the need to make it an action-packed tale of revenge. Theo Miller could well be played by Liam Neeson if this book were to ever be made into a film. Of course, unlike Neeson's on-screen personae, Theo is merely a tool for higher, more competent powers.

Said powers happen to be an ex-patty line worker and an older woman at the mercy of her son. They do all the hard work, but Theo gets to be the hero. Herein lies my biggest grouse with the book - I am tired of reading lurid details of how women and girls are subjected to sexual violence, or have little or no recourse for such violence. The news is full of that stuff, fictional books do not need to follow suit. Throughout the book, I kept wondering what would have happened had the characters' roles been reversed. What if Dani's folks had a rich friend willing to sponsor Dani for a better life? Would Theo have ended up on the patty line and been sold/trafficked? Why is it that only the female characters in this book must face the eventuality of sexual violence and slavery? There is not a mention of something similar happening to any of the male characters? Does it mean that ALL women in the world of this book are seen as desirable commodities? Or, does the author think that every woman is the exact shape and size that is desirable by default (because they aren't)? It was frustrating to read. The constant insinuation that a child of 14 could be trafficked and the overwhelming threat levied on the male protagonist that there is a 'market' for children like his daughter smacks of cliched tropes that we should have moved beyond in 2018. None of the women characters are individuals in their own right - all are defined by the men in their lives, or of what men have done to them in their lives. The death of female characters/the threat of violence on women characters are instigators for the male protagonist to act. Dani is a plot device; Helen a plot convenience; Heidi, a plot closer/nanny, and Lucy, the human MacGuffin ala every b-movie ever.

It constantly amazes me that women writers feel the need to diminish women and their characteristics. JK Rowling could have made Harry Potter a girl, but she chose not to. Instead, the only girl in the main three is an emotionless convenience. Hermione is great, but deserves better, even from her own creator. In '84k', the women are incredible characters, but never have the chance to shine because the author's focus is only on Theo; only on the actions of the men in charge. Wouldn't it have been refreshing had Neila turned out to be more than just a navigator? Or if Simon and Philip were Simone and Philippa? How about some out gay characters? What is this world like for trans and non-binary people? So many aspects of humanity could have been explored, but this rich world is reduced to being the story of yet another straight male with a saviour complex.

If not for the profusion of tropes and exposition, I feel this book would have exceeded all expectations. There is no faulting the vivid dystopian vision that North has created. It feels real and somewhat familiar, but it is unfortunately cemented over with a thin plot and cliched characters. I wanted Theo to be more than just a convenient action hero; far too many things go his way for him to survive, forget succeed, in this book. He is little more than an emblematic hero - a figurehead that thrives off the hard work and sacrifices of others to get to his destination. He is a complex character drowned by the plot.

This book had plenty of potential which it lay waste in lieu of a by-the-numbers story of anarchical empowerment. The poetic language is powerful, but often eclipsed by incomplete musings and thoughts. I really wanted to love this book - after reading the excerpt, I thought I was in love with it, but the complete picture wasn't as pretty as the pieces. This book is worth reading, but be wary of tropes and cliches.
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Even though I started reading the full novel only a short time after the preview, I decided to re-read those first 5 chapters because there was something I knew I hadn't fully grasped. The patty line. The first couple of times it was mentioned I happily read on, assuming that if it was important, enlightenment would occur at some point. Well, in fact it is very important to the story - it's what the story hangs off!

So here's how it works - 1. human rights have been abolished, 2. crime is punished by indemnity, calculated by the Criminal Audit Office, 3. if the guilty party can't pay the indemnity, they are sent to the patty line.

"Prison was a deeply inefficient way of rehabilitating criminals, especially given how many were clearly irredeemable, and despite privatisation efficiencies overcrowding and reoffending were a perennial problem. Rehabilitation through work was an excellent and scientifically provable way of instilling good societal values. The first Commercial Reform Institute was opened when Theo was seven years old, and made meat patties for hamburgers."

These days, of course, the 'patties' do a lot more than just make hamburgers.

Dani Cumali has been on the patty line since Theo last knew her as his childhood friend. When she re-enters his life and seeks his help with something that seems to be the uncovering of some kind of conspiracy, Theo is reluctant to get involved. To force his hand, Dani reveals that she has a daughter and that Theo is the father. It could be true. Her tearaway daughter Lucy is in care, and Dani wants to get her back. But then Dani is murdered - £84,000, thank you very much. Theo becomes increasingly convinced that Lucy is his responsibility, so he begins looking into Dani's conspiracy.

Meanwhile, there's another, later, storyline going on. Theo has been badly injured and rescued by Neila, who lives alone on a longboat, navigating the English canals. They head north together, hopeful of finding the possibly-mythical Queen of the Patties, and enlisting her help in the search for Lucy. 

Now I generally love a story built around dual-timelines, but something went wrong for me with this one. I was watching and waiting for the two to converge, as they logically would, but I got a bit lost and thought the earlier timeline had caught up before it actually had. I suspect I know why this happened - I'd lost interest in Theo and his quest, and probably wasn't paying attention. Anyway, for this reason the final quarter of the book was confusing for me, limping along to an anticlimactic conclusion, but welcome ending.

Claire North's writing excites me as much as ever, but this story ultimately wasn't my cup of tea.
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Is it still a revolution if it’s too late? 84K is a dystopian novel where the UK is controlled by a unified regime called the Company, who has remodelled society with a profits-first mentality. The novel pushes the idea that ‘some people are worth more than others’ to a cost-based extreme. Everyone has a price, a price paid or a price owed. Theo works for the Company, auditing crimes for criminals to pay in restitution. Some crimes are worth more than others based on the worth of the victim. For most of his life, Theo has kept his head down and carried on. When he learns about the possible existence of a daughter, Theo’s eyes are opened and he can no longer stomach the Company.

84K shifts between time periods and perspectives. The passages are almost written like memories, veering from one thought to another, often without completing the sentence. Although the writing is lovely and there are poetic elements to the style, I can’t help wishing for more structure to the book. The novel also feels like it’s about 100 pages too long, opting for over-description and settling into different character’s heads. It only ever resolves the past-plotline instead of the present.

The book switches between Theo as an old man, who is saved by Neila -- a female boat captain who dabbles in tarot cards and believes that there is a moral code that boaters should all follow -- and Theo as the middle-aged corporate shlub. In the present, Theo and Neila learn to trust each other and share their value systems as Theo describes his mission and path of vengeance. Neila could have been a greater focus in the novel; often it felt like she was just reacting to Theo or waiting for him to return. Her progress in the story is subtle, but I wanted to learn so much more about her.

There’s a lot to love about 84K. There's heists, imposters, ageing characters, and interesting side characters. However, the novel is also incredibly dark. There is a lot of death, starvation, and assault. The veering between time and characters also distracts from the main plot which is never ultimately solved. I love books with frank depictions of revolution but 84K never answers if it was worth it. I ended up reacting and caring far more about the one-liner side characters than I did for Theo or Neila. If you’re OK with a novel that focuses more on style, 84K is the grim but poetic dystopian novel for you.
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84K is an odd book - it doesn't fit neatly in many categories. It's sort of a dystopian novel, where The Corporation runs, well, everything. And absolutely EVERYTHING has a price. Murder, assault, theft, rape...there's a monetary cost attached. The main character's job is to evaluate the final cost for these sorts of things, and then those who have enough money can pay that cost and face no further repercussion. However, he had the startling tendency to randomly assert those costs as they flashed through his head during different scenes in the story - and that got old quickly. 

The entire book was written stream-of-consciousness style, and that was distracting and frustrating, as the streams quite often changed or simply just ended with no real...ending. In addition, I found myself struggling to find *anything* likeable about the characters - and I failed utterly. So between the lack of a connection, and the stream of consciousness narrative style, I just did not like the book.

Possible review to come on
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84K was my first foray into the writing of Claire North, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. The description intrigued me, though, so I decided to give it a go. And wow.

This book made me angry. It made me despair. At times it almost made me lose hope, but there was always a thread of hope running through the text. In short, I loved this book.

The most frightening part about this book is that we aren’t really sure the time period it’s set in. It’s at least the future in England and probably the very near future. Money is everything. Is it profitable? It’s worth it. There is a company, which is owned by a company, which is owned by a company, all in turn and ultimately all owned by the Company. They rule everything essentially. The government and all that still functions normally, but everyone knows it’s the Company who really runs the country.

Crimes are audited. If the perpetrator can pay the fee, they go free. If not, they go to the patty line where they have to work odd jobs for the prisons--writing 5-star reviews for companies for example. Did the offender call themselves in? Discount. Was the victim a lowly nobody? Discount. Did the victim have health issues, physical or mental? Discount. 

There is such blatant disregard for humanity that it’s sickening. The book does a fantastic job of portraying both the cruelty of the situation and the apathy expressed by the citizens. It does a very good job of showing the inhumanities without condoning them or, at the same time, being overly preachy. 

There is a man called Theo Miller. That is not his real name. His friend Dani was killed. She needed his help with something. Taking down the Company maybe. But in this world, where the rich can pay to be stainless, that’s not so easy.

The plot’s not important. Well, it’s not the most important element. The characters and the world drive the story. The characters are incredible. You feel their pain...their apathy...everything. We see flashbacks and glimpses of pivotal moments. We begin in the present...maybe the future...of Neila taking the man known as Theo into her boat, where she lives. He has been badly wounded. The ambulance won’t come. Nobody will. She has no insurance. 

The writing especially is spectacular. It messes with time. Time

Sometimes the past becomes the future becomes the present. Maybe everything is the present. I’m not saying there’s time travel or anything of the sort. This book is speculative fiction in the sense that it’s a dystopian, not anything magical. (Well, there’s one small part, but whether or not that really happened is up to you, I’d say.) The book plays with the order of things, jumping around different moments of time.

I had to put the book down a few times. This is a heavy read. It’s a slow burn. At times, you may wonder what the point of it all is. I don’t think this book is for everyone. I would suggest reading it slowly. Don’t go in expecting a fast, action-packed story. 84K is the definition of bleak. It sheds a light on the side of society some would prefer to stay hidden. It is a worthwhile read. A spectacular one. One that will haunt you for time to come.
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