By Marty Mulrooney
Floodland is a children’s fantasy novel published by Orion Children’s Books in 2000. The debut novel of Marcus Sedgwick, it won the Branford Boase Award in 2001 for being an outstanding first published novel. Having recently reviewed Sedwick’s latest book White Crow, I decided it would be interesting to start at the beginning and see how Floodland holds up ten years later.
Zoe could see their eyes, clearly. She saw fear. But she couldn’t trust them. Since she’d lost her parents, she’d made it a rule not to trust anyone. Zoe had heard people say they’d lost someone, which really meant they had died. In Zoe’s case, ‘lost’ meant exactly that. It was still unbelievable, and so stupid.
Floodland takes place in the near future, where most of the United Kingdom is submerged underwater. Norwich has become an island, with food and water increasingly scarce. The story follows the journey of Zoe, a young girl who accidently gets left behind by her parents during a boat evacuation from the island.
Left to fend for herself, the evacuations stop coming and the people who are left become increasingly aggressive and disorganised. When Zoe finds an old boat, she commits to repairing it and making it seaworthy. The main plot involves Zoe’s quest to sail after her parents, and the problems she encounters along the way once she discovers the dangerous Eels island.
She opened her mouth in surprise, but said nothing. Far away on the horizon was a massive, ancient, stone building. It had two tall towers that stuck out into the sky, one at the end and another shorter one in the middle. She couldn’t see that there was any land underneath it, and it looked as if it was floating on the sea.
Led by a boy named Dooby, Eels island is a collection of delusional survivors hanging onto their leader’s every word. They call themselves the Eels and don’t seem a friendly bunch at all. The ocean is advancing, and so are other groups with similar strange animal names such as the Cats, Pigs and Horses. Zoe must escape and fast.
This environment is vividly realised and the narrative constantly tugs at your heartstrings without resorting to cheap tactics. The endless water helps the reader share a sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness with Zoe as she defies her fate and struggles onward. Her determination quickly earns the reader’s respect and her relationships with an old man named William and a young boy named Munchkin are particularly touching.
She went under again. Longer this time. Strangely, it was much quieter under the water. She no longer felt the cold. She no longer felt anything. Darkness was all around her. She knew she was about to drown.
Floodland is a short book at only 122 pages, but the brilliance of the narrative is perhaps in its brevity. Some explanations are offered for the state of the world, but nothing concrete is committed to. This allows Sedgwick free reign over an entire realm of water and possibilities. The ending, as expected, is powerfully moving.
The idea of people calling themselves after animals may be a little blunt in its depiction of people reverting back to their primal instincts, but it must be remembered that this is a decidedly young adult novel at heart, perhaps more so than the author’s later works. For younger readers especially, this will no doubt provide a completely riveting read with a likeable and relatable protagonist. Entirely deserving of the Branford Boase Award, Floodland is a stunning debut novel that precluded more literary brilliance to follow.
9 OUT OF 10