Kaninda Bulumba doesn’t speak unless he has to. He does what he’s told, keeps his head down and shows no emotion. For that is what he has been trained to do. To the outside world, he is a refugee from Lasai, Africa; an orphan who has seen terrible things, a child to be protected by his adopted family in London. On the inside, he is a soldier; a hostage in a foreign land, carefully planning his escape back to the civil war between Kibu and Yusulu – his war. But keeping your head down in the Barrier estate isn’t always easy, especially when things start to kick off and Kaninda gets drawn into the urban warfare of London gangs bent on destruction.
Bernard Ashley’s novel of a rescued child soldier, celebrating its fifteenth anniversary with a new paperback edition from Orchard Books, still feels as raw and relevant as it did when it was first published. A slow burner that takes patience to get into, this book draws parallels between tribal and gang warfare, and forces its characters and readers to come face to face with the nature of loyalty, hatred and violence. Some of the London slang now feels a little dated in places, but the quality of the writing and fine characterisation negates any feeling of inauthenticity. A hard book set in a hard world; this title would suit young adult readers who enjoy realist, gritty fiction.