Edyth Bulbring is South Africa’s premier story-teller for young adults, and her previous books have had the ability to elicit tears of laughter while tackling serious issues, all in a South African context.
Her April-May series was a delight, and anyone wanting something older and darker must read The Club, an unsettling glimpse of what might happen behind the elegant stone walls of a private school.
The Mark is completely different: gone is the familiar sense of place, the special flavour of youthful South African English. It is set in an unnamed place in an undated future, a post-neo-diluvian city divided by class and characterised by massive inequalities.
Juliet, aka Ettie, is a teenage orphan. Like her friends, she is bound to live in Slum City, and is trained for purely manual labour – in her case, working in Mangeria City as a household drudge for The Posh.
Like Apartheid South Africa, the poor of Slum City need passes, are regulated by a curfew, and cannot live, love or work according to their own desires. They all bear The Mark, an in-erasable series of numbers at the base of their spines. Although The Posh have a more comfortable existence, they too have a mark, and their lives are regulated.
Ettie discovers there is a Resistance and, thanks to being placed in the household of an influential member of the Mangerian Government, is a valuable asset to the freedom fighters. She also falls in love with a “Locust”, a policeman, chosen from the ranks of the rich and completely out of reach socially or romantically.
Since the authorities use The Mark to track and coerce the population, the rebels must destroy the system to bring freedom.
Bulbring paints a believable society in which steampunk is married to advanced technology. Although there is action and excitement, the focus is on the characters and their emotions, so this is never just another post-apocalyptic adventure story but something deeper and more serious.
Different and unexpected, this book is also readable and thought-provoking. However, it is a mistake to categorise the book as young adult because it has a universal appeal.