Brother in The Land begins with teenager Danny taking a break from working in his father’s corner store to go on a long bike ride into the English countryside. It starts to rain, so he takes shelter in a World War II pillbox. As he waits for the rain to stop, he sees the flashes of nuclear missiles exploding.
Aware that the rain might contain radiation, he waits for it to stop and then rides back to his fictional hometown of Skipley. It is badly damaged and hundreds are dead. The rest of the novel tells the story of Danny’s attempts to survive.
Brother in the Land is a young adult novel told exclusively from Danny’s point of view. Danny seems slightly emotionally detached from what is going on around him. He mourns little for family and friends who died, which leaves the reader wondering if he had had any friends. But perhaps he is just in shock and too busy getting on with surviving to mourn.
The novel does a realistic job of describing the aftermath of a nuclear attack: the breakdown in authority, the wait for help while many people do whatever it takes to survive, people dying of radiation sickness, crops failing, deformed babies being born.
The novel was written and set in the 1980’s, at a time when nuclear war was a big fear. But the novel reads like it could have been written in the 50’s. One of the reasons for this is the near total absence of females in leadership roles. There is only one substantial female character in the novel, the tough, but pretty Kim. She is used to show that Danny still has teenage hormones.
The novel has a real boy’s own adventure feel to it. It is obvious that its author Robert Swindells had a military background, with Danny’s devotion to duty being one of the novel’s big themes. Duties that include helping his family and joining a militia to fight those who sought to enslave the survivors.
The prose is straightforward, with little creative flair. The sentences are short and there is a lot of foreshadowing. Brother in the Land won the “Other” award, but I could find no reference to that award on the web.
Originally the novel ended with little hope for Danny’s survival, but Swindells added a new chapter that gives some hope. This seems unnecessary and goes against the novel’s overall bleakness. It also seems unrealistic.
Except for the additional chapter, Brother in the Land appears to be a relatively realistic portrayal of a teenager trying to survive after a nuclear war. As it progresses, it becomes a passable action novel, with Danny forced to fight to survive. But his lack of emotion left me thinking the author was too scared to explore the inner thoughts of his main character. It is very much a novel for teenage boys who don’t want to read any girly emotions.