Right from the word go, the reader is swept along by the pace and action of Chris Wooding’s latest novel, Pale. I am willing to bet that this is a book that will be devoured at one sitting by even the most reluctant of readers. The Pales are an outcast group, the lepers of the era, as they have been brought back to life by the Lazarus Serum, a wonder drug that, if given immediately after death can save the recipient, but only if they have the correct blood type. However, prolonged life comes at a terrible price – hair, skin and eyes turn white and they are hated and bullied by non-Pales, jealous perhaps that death can be cheated by some but not all. Jed, the hero of the story is a popular guy with plenty of friends but he finds his world turned upside down when, after he is hit by a car, he suddenly knows what it is like to be a Pale. He is convinced that it is a fate far worse than death itself.
This is science fiction at its best – with a credible premise that is just about plausible from a medical point of view. Yet having an elixir that keeps one alive forever does not seem such an attractive option at all. The moral dilemma and ethics of such a choice are grappled with throughout the story.
This is a gripping read, a taut tale of betrayal, loyalty, prejudice and varying degrees of friendship. Just as Malorie Blackman in Noughts and Crosses or Wooding himself in earlier novels such as Storm Thief or Poison successfully deal with what it feels like to be an outcast, Pale evokes the simmering hatred and violence that can erupt when peer pressure singles out any kind of difference or perceived weakness. Kyle rejects his old friend Jed’s plea that despite his appearance as a Pale, inside he hasn’t changed at all as he callously remarks “You all look the same to me”. A highly recommended read for young adults.