Sunday 19 February 2017

Fractured Europe series, by Dave Hutchinson

There are three novels in the Fractured Europe sequence, which is probably all that we are going to get as the third volume rounds off the story nicely and there is no hint of any more.

The first is Europe in Autumn. To paraphrase the back cover, this tale is set in a dystopian near-future in which multiple economic crises and a flu pandemic have fractured Europe into countless tiny nations, duchies, polities and republics. Among these is The Line, a nation consisting of a narrow strip of land enclosing a trans-European railway. I was mildly amused to note that while the failure of the EU and the fracturing of Europe remain possibilities the author has already been overtaken by recent events, in that his England is seen as the strongest supporter of what remains of the EU!

The story focuses on the life of Rudi, who we first see as a chef in a restaurant in Kraków but then becomes recruited by Les Coureurs des Bois, a secretive but powerful organisation which is primarily concerned with transporting packages (live or otherwise) through Europe's complex maze of customs barriers and passport controls – but they have also become involved in espionage.

We see Rudi in glimpses over time, as he tackles missions of ever-increasing complexity and danger. The final one is the most intriguing as it introduces a new concept – a Europe which exists on, and apparently was brought into existence by, fantasy maps drawn by a British cartrographic family in the past, indicating a parallel world – the Community – which could be entered by those who knew how.


The second volume, Europe at Midnight, starts with a 50-page sequence in the Campus – a strange, enclosed land some two hundred miles across, surrounded by mountains – and also by booby-traps which prevent anyone from leaving. The land is entirely occupied by a huge, dispersed university previously run on hereditary lines, at which a revolution –The Fall – had taken place a few months earlier. The story follows the new Professor of Intelligence as he investigates the crimes of the Old Board and also the various attempts to escape. The rest of the book intersperses the first-person viewpoint of the unnamed Professor with third-person viewpoints of others.

The plot then returns to the Fractured Europe universe with the focus on Jim, an English secret service agent who is roped into investigating incredible reports concerning a parallel world called the Community. His scepticism is soon dented when a real live escapee from the Campus turns up, at which point the two plot threads come together. And – halfway though the book – Les Coureurs des Bois make a reappearance.

The third setting for the story, the Community, features in much of the rest of the book. This is a strange version of Europe, basically like 1950s Britain throughout, and very well-controlled. The tension rises as various plot threads tying together Fractured Europe and the Community head towards a conclusion.


The third volume, Europe in Winter has, rather oddly, more in common with the first volume than the second, as attention again switches to Rudi and we hear the rest of his story against the background of the competition between the Community and Fractured Europe. One of the giant, high-speed trains of the trans-European express is destroyed by sabotage – but who did it, and why? And what is the Community really up to?

Various other characters appear, some from the previous volumes, some new, although unless you have a more retentive memory than mine it might be hard to work out which ones we have met before. This meant that I was struggling to understand the context of many of the scenes, but I still enjoyed the read as the author spins such an intriguing tale.


The paraphrase which popped into my mind with these books was "this is SFF Jim, but not as we know it". Full marks for originality, and for high-quality story-telling. I did find it a little confusing at times due to the number of characters and the switches of viewpoint, but it repaid the effort involved. I hope to revisit these three before too long, but without any gaps in between and making notes of the main characters when I first encounter them!