Describing Malorie Blackman as a prolific writer and author doesn’t really do justice to her phenomenal output. Having initially worked as a systems programmer, it was in her late twetnies that she took the plunge into writing with her first book, Not So Stupid; a collection of horror and science fiction stories for young adults. From that point she hasn’t looked back, going on to write over 60 books for children and young adults, as well as scripts for television and the stage.
Chief among Blackman’s vast body of work is her series Noughts & Crosses; set in an alternative 21st century Britain, in a world in which Africa had gained a technological and organisational advantage over Europe, and where African people made Europeans their slaves. Although slavery has been abolished, segregation remains with the ‘crosses’ (dark-skinned people) in control of the ‘noughts’ (lighter-skinned people).
This year has seen the release of the long-awaited fifth book of the series, Crossfire, and Blackman will be joining us to discuss it on Sunday 8 September. We won’t spoil that one for you, but as it has been eleven years since the last book in the series, we thought it was time for a quick recap.
The first book in the series, it is written from two different perspectives; those of Sephy, a ‘cross’ and Callum, a ‘nought’ – friends since early childhood – with the chapters alternating between their stories. After forced separation their friendship rekindles when a limited number of noughts (Callum being one) are allowed into cross schools.
Against a background of prejudice and distrust, a romance builds between the two, but one which is complicated further with Sephy being the daughter of a government minister, and Callum’s brother and father committed to prominent nought terrorist organisation, LM. Over the years, their paths diverge and cross, with Sephy falling pregnant with Callum’s child, before he is arrested on the presumption of rape. With no-one willing to believe the pair that the child was conceived willingly, Callum meets his end by way of a public hanging.
Knife Edge finds Sephy as mother to Callie Rose, but also faced with the anger of Jude, Callum’s brother. Blaming Sephy for his family’s losses, Jude is determined to destroy her; but his feelings toward ‘crosses’ are challenged as he befriends and begins to fall in love with cross, Cara Imega. Frustrated and confused by his feelings he attacks and kills Cara, and is charged with her murder.
Sephy meanwhile is in the grip of postnatal depression – brought on by a letter supposedly from Callum, in which he claimed to have never loved her – and has begun to neglect Callie Rose. Struggling with the realisation that Callum’s mother Meggie may lose her other son, Sephy decides to give Jude a fake alibi. It works, but leaves her in a desperate place; the crosses hate her because she helped Jude escape the noose, the noughts because she did not come to his aid sooner. As she ponders her position she hugs her daughter tightly. Too tightly, and the book ends on a cliffhanger as Callie Rose stops breathing.
In Checkmate, Callie Rose (there goes that cliffhanger) has discovered the truth about her father, and is angry with Sephy for hiding it. Jude duly takes the girl to see Kamal, Sephy’s father, but he denies that he’s her grandfather. Exploiting Callie Rose’s anger, Jude – now a general of the terrorist organisation LM – grooms her to become a suicide bomber.
Sephy meanwhile finds herself caught between two suitors; Nathan the owner of a restaurant in which she sings, and Sonny a former boyfriend. When the former proposes Sephy accepts, but the presence of Sonny leaves her confused. That confusion isn’t aided when Sephy receives a letter written by Callum before his death, in which he tells her his love for her.
Enter Sephy’s mother Jasmine to tie a host of loose ends together. First she locks her daughter and granddaughter in a wine cellar until they make up, then she exposes her ex-husband Kamal as being corrupt by way of a letter to the press. And finally she detonates a bomb, before Jude can use it on its intended target of Kamal.
In the fourth book of Blackman’s series, focus shifts to Callie Rose and her friend and later boyfriend Tobey. Despite his best efforts to stay clean, Tobey finds himself mixed up in a world of rival gangs, performing ‘deliveries’ for gang-leader McAuley. Tobey’s worlds collide when Callie is shot by McAuley, and ends up in a coma.
Determined to avenge Callie’s shooting Tobey puts into place a plan to frame McAuley as a traitor, but not before he’s found himself getting closer than intended to Rebecca, the daughter of the owner of the restaurant at which he works. The plan just about works, and when Callie Rose awakes from her coma the pair are reunited and reconciled as they each own up to a series of stark truths.
And it is here that Blackman left us, eleven years ago. With Callie Rose and Tobey together and seemingly on a course for happiness. But if the previous four books are anything to go by, surely we can expect a few more twists and turns to befall them in Crossfire.
Malorie Blackman appears in conversation with Tobi Kyeremateng here at Southbank Centre on Sunday 8 September, as the pair discuss her Noughts & Crosses series and introduce the newest novel in it, Crossfire.