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Useful Idiots    by Jan Mark order for
Useful Idiots
by Jan Mark
Order:  USA  Can
David Fickling Books, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Useful Idiots is set in a futuristic society in the year 2255. Climactic and atmospheric changes, of a past century or more, eroded the land of what was once the United Kingdom. The lowlands of Britain were flooded. Now archeology is a lost science, banned in fear of 'social unrest'. The UK is named the 'Rhine Delta Islands' (RDI), and established as an outpost of the 'United States of Europe', a 'federalist' society. Archives of past history have mostly been deleted. As one archeologist says, 'History drowned and we pulled up the ladder behind us'.

A human skull is uncovered and named the 'Parizo Man' after the beach where it was found. The 'Inglish', a.k.a. 'The Oysters', (so dubbed from the belief that they can and have grown pearls within their bodies), are the Aboriginal community which has maintained its old ways, and whose property is close to where the skull was found. A question arises as to whether the skull will reveal an ancient murder, perhaps a grave robber in search of pearls. There's debate as to who will lawfully lay claim to the find - the Aboriginal tribe, represented by the Bureau of Aboriginal Reserve Affairs, or the RDI, and other interested parties.

While humans of RDI have been 'genetically modified', the Aboriginal tribe has not. Protagonist Merrick Korda, a graduate student of history and archeology travelling within the tribe of 20,000 Aborigines, is tossed headlong into the controversy. Merrick is haunted by unseen enemies, and distrusted by all parties, while he searches for clues, and explores his own humanity. Korda decides to secretly experiment, attempting to prove or disprove the growth of 'moss pearls'. This involves unfreezing a horsefly egg, and accepting the insect bite into his left wrist.

The novel, geared to teen audiences, has a distinct premise. However, character development is lost amongst motives and repeated, confusing explanations, while the story flows nowhere in particular, leading to a somewhat skewed ending. What I enjoyed in Useful Idiots was the premise, the notion of the Aborigines, the 'boglands' and 'foxfire', and especially the experiment which Merrick Korda undertakes, at the cost of endangering his life.

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