Heidi's sweet, feckless father was deep in debt when he got murdered, and her mother's in a secure hospital, suspected of criminal insanity. She was Mum and Dad's carer, and life was hard but sweet. Now she's an Indentured Teen, a
modern slave, which is totally legal in this future England. She's been sent from her home in the city to the desolate depths of the countryside, where people are practically starving, and anything can happen to you.
Her owners are a weird old pair of crazies, she sleeps in a freezing attic, and she still has to turn up for Learning Sessions with the other Mehilhoc "Exempt Teens" (that's young people unfit for agricultural labour camp). To make matters worse, the kids know her whole shameful story, and are fascinated by the tag on her ankle. But it's okay. She has the Police Inspector's phone number, and the memory of his words: "if you recall anything, anything at all, please get in touch . . ." Somehow, someway, stuck out in the deepest sticks, she's going to prove that her Mum didn't kill her Dad. The Grasshopper's Child is an old-fashioned futuristic thriller, set in the same Post-Dissolution England as the legendary Bold As Love series, about young people taking the law into their own hands, and the savagery that hides behind wealth and power: featuring odd characters, atrocious secrets, lost illusions and true friends. And gardening tips.
The Grasshopper's Child by Gwyneth Jones—winner of the P. K. Dick, Tiptree, Clarke and World Fantasy awards—unfolds in her Bold as Love universe, a near-future Earth suffering from mild but potentially dangerous imbalances and strictures. Heidi, the offspring of parents who became social outcasts, is an Indentured Teen parceled out to eccentric owners in the beleaguered English countryside. She's doing her utmost to navigate through the shoals of her precarious life, receive the education she so desperately needs, and clear her parents' unfairly blackened names. The Grasshopper's Child is a remarkable fusion of near-future dystopia with a crime mystery imbued with Jones' fierce intelligence. – Athena Andreadis
"As ever with Gwyneth Jones, the writing is a joy to read: beautiful, vivid and tactile, as here: 'red velvet curtains, worn to rust in the folds, silently coughed out dust when she touched them . . .' I can almost taste that acrid dust in my throat. With ghosts, with technological wizardry, with mystery, modern pirates and murder, and references to The Secret Garden . . . The Grasshopper's Child is a feast."– Katherine Langrish
"The Grasshopper's Child stands alone, a novel about everyday citizens living with the everyday consequences of massive events. It combines the satisfying unmasking closure of a good Scooby-Doo episode with Gwyneth Jones' fiery rage against the Establishment and its occult workings. But be prepared: like Heidi, you will want to go back and learn your history as well as explore this gorgeous secret garden of a book."– Sophie Mayer
"This much anticipated book arrived in the post mid morning, and I'd finished it by bedtime . . . the story of an England managed by a foreign power, where austerity, officially sanctioned tech, and the nationalisation of the means of production are an accepted part of life for many, but where the evidence of deeply hidden crimes bubbles to the surface of life in a seemingly idyllic Sussex village. Recommended for adults and young adults alike."– Jeanette Greaves (of Wolf-Girls) Goodreads
"As with so many of Jones's novels, it is about the underclass, the damaged, those who don't fit into society. Clancy, the Hooded Boy, has Mental Health Issues and sleeps rough in the Gardens. Beautiful Challon's dream of stardom is horribly dependent on the hippie fat cat who runs the village. Brooklyn wants to be a vet, but she probably won't live to be twenty . . . By rights this novel should be coming out from a major publisher with a massive publicity push. However, all I can do is add my voice here to the growing chorus encouraging you to go out and get this book, because Gwyneth Jones is never less than readable."– Paul Kincaid, From The Other Side (at Bull Spec.com)
"The first Gwyneth Jones books I fell in love with were the series that starts with Bold As Love–all rock, all political, all relationships, all the time. Focused on the near future, the environment, and how people handle it as people –at basically every scale. Healthy dollop of weird science fiction mysticism . . .There are authors of whom you can say, "Well, it's a one of those again, if you want that," and … Gwyneth Jones doesn't do that. Even the last book of the Bold As Love cycle departs strongly from the patterns and concerns of the rest of it. (The Grasshopper's Child, and I love that one too.)"– Marisa Lingen, blogger at Novel Gazing Redux
The girl waited in a drab hallway, a small rucksack on her back, a suitcase at her feet. The suitcase was big, but battered. It had been bright purple, but the colour was faded and stained. She was tall, and naturally slim but right now looking skinny and hollowed-out: she hadn't been able to sleep, or eat much, since the terrible thing happened. She was turning the pages of an old children's picture book, called Tales And Fables From Many Lands, a book she'd loved when she was a little girl. She stopped at a picture she remembered well.
The red ant, looking shiny and cross, and wearing an apron, stood in the doorway of its cosy house under a tree-root. It was holding the door just a slice open, and had the middle pair of its six legs folded grumpily. You could see the grasshopper wasn't going to get in.
The grasshopper wore her tattered wings like rags, and huddled her middle legs around her shivering body. Darts of snow were falling on her fast. Heidi held the book in one hand, pushing back a lock of thick, curly black hair that had escaped from its clip, as she read the words on the opposite page. It had always bothered her that they didn't match the picture, but Mum said the picture still told the story. In her mind, she could hear Mum's voice.
The Ants and the Grasshopper The Ants were spending a fine winter's day drying grain collected in the summertime. A Grasshopper, perishing with famine, passed by and earnestly begged for a little food. The Ants inquired, 'Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?' He replied, 'I had not leisure enough. I passed the days in singing.' They then said in derision: 'If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer, you must dance supperless to bed in the winter.'
Aesop's Fables Translated by George Fyler Townsend
Virtual Verruca had appeared: a slightly transparent woman in a glossy business suit, with a nipped-in waist, a nipped-in mouth, and an expression that made it clear you weren't going to get anywhere, whatever it was you wanted.
In ways she looked a lot like the ant in the picture.
Her real name was Verushka, or something like that, she was Heidi's Placement Manager. Her real body would be back at the Angel Care Company's office, sitting at a desk in some big building as shiny as that suit. Heidi had never seen it: she'd only been visited by Verruca the Ghost, here at the Indentured Teens Residential Facility.
'Come on Heidi, get a move on. It's time to go.'
Heidi closed the book, put it away with the rest of her entire life, and fastened the battered purple suitcase up again. It would be sent on; she wasn't allowed to take it with her. She took her time, just to annoy Verruca, but she definitely wasn't going to miss this place.
The journey was long. First the Tube (for Heidi: Verruca took a cab); then a train and then another train. Verruca didn't speak the whole time: just pointed a virtual finger when Heidi needed directions. The finger triggered a wifi impulse that jerked on Heidi's tag, so she had to come to heel like a dog. Another taxi was waiting for them outside the lonely country station. Heidi and Virtual Verruca got in. Verruca instantly noticed that the driver had flagged-up the massive penalty fare for a single passenger.
'Hey. Can't you see there are two of us?'
'I see one passenger, one ghost,' said the driver calmly. 'Take it or leave it.'
A taxi-driver was obviously God out here in the deepest sticks, where nobody had private cars and the trains and buses were few. He wasn't impressed by a talking hologram. Verruca soon gave up the fight, but spent the whole drive bitching under her breath to someone back at the office, about dysfunctional yokel grifters, who ought to be in Adult Labour Camp. She looked dysfunctional herself, sitting there muttering and twitching her fingers, with her eyeballs jerking to and fro: like someone dreaming wide-awake.
The taxi took them to an empty car-park surrounded by bare and dripping trees. It was raining quite hard. 'The Gardens are the Property of the National Trust,' said Verruca. 'Don't leave the paths.' She vanished.
Heidi trudged alone along puddled paths coated in sodden dead leaves, directed by spiteful jolts from her tag, until she reached an ugly, yellowish stone building. It had gingerbread-house pointed windows sticking out of the roof, and a row of twisted chimneys.
At the front steps Verruca materialised again.
'This is your placement,' she said. 'Follow me.'
Heidi couldn't follow Verruca, who simply walked through the door. She didn't live in the world of free-roaming mobile avatars. She lived in the miserable, ordinary world that had been left behind. She located an ancient door-knocker, cold in her hand, and dislodged cobwebs to lift it. The tongue fell on metal with a harsh, doomy clang.
The old wreck who opened the door wore a grubby floral dressing gown. Her feet were bare, her grey hair was a bird's nest, and her breath smelled of alcohol. She didn't say a word, just turned away and padded off. Heidi's tag tugged her into a big unfurnished front room. Through the windows she could see the yellowish-stone archway that led to the Gardens, standing alone like the last fragment of a ruined palace.
Virtual Verruca was there, looking disgusted.
'I need to validate the transaction biometrically,' she said. 'It's very simple.'
'Put the papers in the post,' said Old Wreck.
'You don't have a scanner? That's not possible. What happens to your 3D mail?'
'I never get letters. If I did, I'd get them the old fashioned way.'
Heidi waited, keeping her distance and enjoying Verruca's angry helplessness, until the Angel Care agent gave up saying she couldn't possibly hand over Heidi without a biometric signature —and disappeared. Disconcertingly she reappeared almost at once, right in front of Heidi. 'Do what you're told,' hissed the virtual menace. 'And don't cause any trouble. Just remember. Deadbeats like you and your mum are very lucky to be alive.'
Heidi's blood boiled. But she swallowed her spit, ducked her head and nodded. It was disgusting, horrible to say what Verruca had just said. It was against the law. But it was true.
The young girl and the old woman looked at each other.
'Are you sort of fostering me?' asked Heidi, cautiously.
'No, child,' said Old Wreck. 'Your daddy's dead, your mother's in the bin. You're a recovered asset, hired out by the loan company to work off your dad's debts.'
'You mean I'm a slave,' said Heidi (instantly forgetting she must not cause trouble).
Old Wreck laughed, like muddy water cackling in a broken drain. 'Certainly not. That would be unthinkable! You're my indentured teen. My name is Tallis Maylock: I don't suppose that brute told you . . . I'll show you to your room.'