The List & The Last Word are two novels, now available bound together in a single volume. They tell a post-apocalyptic story of the survival of people after The Melting, when the polar ice melted from Climate Change. This caused a tsunami which flooded the earth and left the atmosphere polluted. There were pockets of liveable space, but without potable water and limited food supplies.
On a safe haven called Ark, John Noa rules in a dictatorship. He has decreed that the disaster on earth was caused by people having too much freedom with language, thus allowing concepts and values to be explored and developed to the detriment of society. In restricting freedom of language, he has developed the List, which comprises only 500 words which is all the population can use. The words do not include any abstract ideas or anything to do with feelings, only words that make everyday life possible. Also outlawed are music and art. No fires can be lit as that would further damage the ozone layer, water is provided by desalination of sea water, food is prepared in a central kitchen and there is a two-child policy. Anyone who breaks these rules is banished from Ark and left to die in the forest inhabited by wild animals.
There are, however, some settlements outside Ark. One is Tintown, where people who did not make it into Ark at the Melting live a miserable life in tin shanties. There are also rebels Noa calls Desperadoes but who call themselves Creators. They live at the Pumphouse, underground in an old ruin. These people want more freedom to live their lives as they were before the Melting and they are prepared to fight.
Letta is a teenage girl who has lost her parents and is apprenticed to Benjamin, the Wordsmith. As Wordsmiths they are the keepers and archivists for the mother tongue and allowed to find and record words beyond the List. They also prepare boxes of words for children at school, and for the different professions as they are needed. Letta lives in Ark and has always abided by the rules as that is all she has known. But she is forced to re-evaluate everything she knows when Benjamin is tortured and left to die in the forest. Letta is expected to take over his position, and to further restrict peoples' language.
Letta decides to trust the Creators. This gets her into trouble with Noa and she must escape Ark. All she wants is a peaceful life, but she's thrust into a leadership position and the situation forces her to work towards the downfall of Noa and his regime. During a battle to stop Noa from poisoning the drinking water with Nicene, which kills the left temporal part of the brain responsible for language, Letta is responsible for killing Noa. When Amelia--Noa's partner and--unknown to Letta, her aunt--takes charge, things descend into further violence and brutality.
Letta is still uncovering the myriad secrets of her past. She discovers that babies are being taken from their parents to be kept in a secure place in the forest and deprived of hearing any language. She also discovers that her mother Freya is still alive. At the climax Amelia dies and the babies are rescued and returned to their parents.
Letta struggles to do what is right and only resorts to violence when no other option is available. The main theme of these novels is freedom and the power of words to ensure that people have access to it. Words are needed to develop and share new ideas and complex concepts. Another theme involves the inevitability of change throughout history. Society is fluid by nature, and resistance to change can only end in repression and uncertainty. The issue of the use and misuse of power is explored. Even if leaders make their decisions based on what they believe to be the best interests of the population, is it right for a government to become a dictatorship? The language in these novels is strong and evocative, while the restrictive nature of the words in the List demonstrates the impossibility of sharing feelings and ideas. The discussion of a dystopia caused by climate change will resonate with readers.
language, torture, climate change, betrayal, love, dystopian world, censorship, power, leadership, adventure, fantasy, post-apocalyptic, fear, trust, bravery, change, good versus evil, truth, freedom, social activism, morals/ethics, politics, culture, peace, manipulation