The Fractured Europe Series - Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson

Subjective Chaos Category – Best Series

Publisher – Solaris

Price - £7.99

Published – Out Now

In Tallinn, Alice – a junior Scottish diplomat – is drawn into an incomprehensible plot spanning decades. In the Aegean, young refugee Benno makes a desperate break for freedom and finds himself in a strange new life.

On the canals of England, a fleet of narrow boats is gathering. Rudi, now a seasoned Coureur, finds himself drawn away from the kitchen one last time as he sets out with his ally Rupert in pursuit of a dead man.

Introducing the Fractured Europe series: -

The Fractured Europe series that started with Europe in Autumn is I think one of the most relevant science fiction series to be published this decade. It’s a near future tale of a Europe no longer joined in Union but where countries; regions and even towns have increasingly split from each other. Division is everywhere and has created a series of fiercely protected checkpoints across Europe. Into this Hutchinson has created the concept of the Coureurs Des Bois - a cross between smugglers and spies who are recruited across Europe to move items from a to b (often due to the new politics and alliances involving trips to j, w and p along the way).

Due to the nature of moving these physical items without discovery there is a need for drop points, codes and secret rendezvous that mean the whole series has much more of a cold war feeling with the coureurs often rubbing up against various intelligence forces who don’t like the idea of a loosely formed independent enterprise that move secrets around. A lot of the Europe series has focused on Rudi – by day a chef but whose family connections has led him increasingly into the chequered world of coureurs and he’s now established himself as one of the more powerful non-elected people in this new world - reluctantly as despite his gift for this type of stagecraft he would much rather cook in his restaurant . Just to add a further dimension Rudi discovers there is a  secret group known by the Community – lets imagine a group of middle class daily mail loving little Englanders who created a separate land for themselves and then by mysterious dimensional engineering hid their land in a strip across Europe for centuries– only now the Community is starting to cross over into our world. History is again about to be changed….

I think in my aims for the year I mentioned that I hate ending a series. It always feels so final but one aim for this year’s reading is to finally close some series down in Mount TBR (more to come on this soon by the way) . Fractured Europe by Dave Hutchinson has been a really intelligent and I think politically astute look at the state of the West (and has many pointed things to say about the UK). I’m pleased to say that Europe at Dawn continues that theme and also provides a bookend to this sequence.

Scotland has now joined the ever-increasing set of countries breaking away from each other and now its starting to have various embassies across the many other parts of Europe to grow sometimes overnight as everyone gets into a craze of divorcing themselves from their main country. Alice is a junior member of the team with a possessive husband and a best friend probably leaving soon. Two gentlemen appear put of nowhere offering a potential sacred relic tied to Scotland’s history Alice offers to have the potential relic verified then it vanishes under her care. About to be disgraced in her career Alice also finds herself instead tied into multiple murders and is sucked in the shadowy world of the coureurs.

In parallel there is a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean where refugees from Africa find themselves in an endless loop. No one wants them but each week a different country takes over responsibility for basic food aid and they find themselves for one week a de facto member of that country…without permission to leave the island. Benno has been there for years and a chance discovery of a dead man and mysterious phone message also plunges him into the courer world where Alice and he work to secure packages and sometimes people.   In both Alice’s and Benno’s stories we see Hutchinson apply some sharp criticism of nationalism and our response to desperate people in need of help. Not something you’ll ever see in a Bond or Tom Clancy tale.

If you enjoy Le Carre’s grittier and yet quite ordinary types of spies, then you’ll love Hutchinson’s work.  This is not hi-tech bond gadgets this is the wold of codes, dead letter drops and subterfuge. Hutchinson excels weaving a tale that counterbalances the newcomers to the scene of Alice with Rudi who we met at the start of the series who now is one of the most unofficially powerful figures in this shadowy scene. The passage of time is a key part of this series. The mysterious Community is once again looking to open its borders and explore the western world, and can they yet be trusted?  I’m really going to add credit here that in Alice and several other female characters this time Hutchinson plays a much greater level of balance in his roles for women - an issue in the past. This for me felt a much more interesting take with many competent women on all sides playing key roles into the narrative.

My one reservation is this probably isn’t the book for a newcomer this feels a counterweight very much to the series’ beginnings and in the process ending Rudi’s tale that began so very long ago. If you’ve not read the series, then several key events and figures will probably pass you by. For me a bittersweet ending because it hints at even greater events in the future! The end of the series?  Let’s hope other adventures in the universe can follow but, in the meantime, a really impressive series that as all the best SF does - show a mirror to current events and says this is who we are and may be becoming.  Is it what we really want?