Thu
Feb 9 2012 4:00pm

Constitution Revoked: Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

The future is a terrifying place. Three years after the end of the War, what’s left of the United States is almost unrecognizable. Major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. are abandoned and off-limits. The all-powerful Federal Bureau of Reformation controls the populace with an iron grip, enforcing the Moral Statues which have replaced the Bill of Rights. Those who violate the rules vanish in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. It’s a crime to follow any religion save the Church of America. The motto of the day is “One Whole Country, One Whole Family,” and families are defined as one man, one woman, and children. Welcome to our national nightmare. Ember Miller has just been declared an unperson under Article 5, which requires all children to be born in wedlock….

The FBR, also known as the Moral Militia, come for Ember and her mother, dragging them away from their Louisville home, all because Ember’s mother was never married. While her mother vanishes into the system for “rehabilitation,” Ember is sent to a juvenile detention facility, a horrifying place where she’ll be kept until she’s eighteen, trained to become a “proper” lady, groomed to join the Sisters of Salvation. For some girls, this would be the end of the road.

However, Ember’s anything but passive. She immediately starts planning her escape, intent on somehow tracking down her mother and making their way to freedom via the rumored underground resistance. And while she’s willing to fight, flee, blackmail, and otherwise risk her life, she soon discovers an unlikely ally in the last place she expected: Chase Jennings, her former neighbor and crush. Chase Jennings, who joined the Moral Militia. Chase Jennings, who helped arrest her not so long ago, and who’s now willing to go AWOL to save her.

Still unwilling and unable to fully trust Chase, Ember is nevertheless reliant upon his experience and resources, as they embark upon an epic journey across the East Coast in search of safety. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know who’s trustworthy and who’ll turn them in for a reward. With informants, bandits, madmen and worse stalking the ruined cities and struggling towns, Chase and Ember only have each other, and their fragile relationship. But that may not be enough when all the awful truths come spilling out.

Article 5 is a provocative, terrifying, frustrating book. Simmons’ not-so-future America is a dystopia extrapolated from the worst of the headlines. It’s a society that has no room for “dissenting” religions, alternative lifestyles, immoral literature, or defying gender roles. While it’s never explicitly said what the Church of America is, it’s obviously meant to be Christianity of some form or another. This is a society where family is defined as a man, a woman, and children, where children born out of wedlock aren’t even considered valid citizens. The Moral Statues outlaw gambling and divorce, and demand that women be subservient to their husbands while the men act as providers and spiritual leaders. There’s absolutely nothing subtle about this set-up, as it outlaws just about everything that doesn’t fit into a certain narrow worldview. I daresay most of those reading this book would agree that this is a Very Bad State Of Affairs. I’m terrified that some people might read this and think “hey, this is my kind of place.”

If I’ve gone on at length about the situation, it’s only because I’m terrified by the world Simmons portrays. And at the same time, I’m left somewhat baffled. We never get a clear picture of what happened, who we fought, how it all went to pieces. The book is set three years after the end of the War, which itself apparently lasted for five years and resulted in the destruction of many major cities, and the need for President Scarboro to do away entirely with the old system and create the FBR. Ember is old enough to remember when things were normal, but she never explains just how we got to the state we’re in now. For those of us who enjoy the world building stage of alternate or future histories, it’s frustrating to not get a clear picture. Especially since this doesn’t seem to be set all that far into the future, and yet the system has been almost completely perverted and upset. (Like it or not, the United States is built on certain principles of government, all of which have been subverted or tossed aside here. Oh, to have some insight into how and why it happened!)

If you can accept the premise as it stands, this book is actually quite interesting. A lot of its strength comes from Ember; she’s a strong, independent, stubborn, determined character who refuses to sit by and let someone else do the rescuing. She may not make the best decisions, but at least she’s fighting as hard as she can against an overwhelmingly awful authority to claim her freedom. She makes a lot of mistakes along the way, but they come from ignorance and inexperience, not naivety or stupidity. She even does the rescuing once in a while when Chase needs her. She’s a girl who will fight for what she wants, and it’s not her fault that pretty much the entire country is stacked against her.

The romance between Ember and Chase is a sweet, slow-burning one, rekindled after years of being apart, and they make a nice team, for all their arguing and misunderstanding and all the things they don’t say to one another. It’s a bright spot of hope in an otherwise dark setting.

And dark it is. There’s some pretty grim material here, from the beatings administered at the juvenile rehabilitation facility, to the chance encounter Ember has with a not-so-sane person on the road, to the soldiers who have their way with young women, and so on. It’s a world where almost every friendly face hides a dark secret, and the entire world is going to Hell in an ever-increasing manner. The sheer weight of horror and injustice present here frustrated me more than anything else. I kept hoping that something would go right for our heroes, and yet….

So I’m torn. On the one hand, Article 5 is thought-provoking and powerful. I picked it up, and couldn’t put it down until I was done. I was drawn in by the concept and the characters and the situation. But as you might imagine, the sketchy backstory, overwhelming bleakness, and general sense of despair made this a pretty depressing read. I think Simmons may have portrayed her dystopia a little too well. So while there’s plenty to recommend her, Article 5 could have been a lot stronger with a little more nuance and subtlety. I’ll be interested to see where Simmons takes things in future installments, and I hope she takes the opportunity to do into more details and really flesh out her world.


Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf

14 comments
StrongDreams
1. StrongDreams
Conservatives run amok with power. How tiresome. The Handicapper General would be proud.
StrongDreams
2. LauraF
I've read this book and I agree with a lot of the comments in the review. It was a decent book but with a little more back story and character building it could have been a really good book.
TW Grace
3. TWGrace
Look, another " the right wing takes over" dystopia.

Yawn...
StrongDreams
4. Glen Fuller
The book sounds excellent, and I look forward to reading it.

Just on the lack of backstory/details: maybe Simmons' goal was to not provide all the details, to leave a gap in the narrative, so readers could start thinking for themselves how the US shifts from the popular conservatism of today to the authoritarian conservatism of Article 5.
StrongDreams
5. Patrick M.
The anti-conservative bias is showing, as the US sleepwalks into a regime that steamrolls Relgious freedoms.
Chin Bawambi
6. bawambi
@ Patrick "steamrolls religious freedoms" What part of the First Amendment do you not understand? I refer you to Reynolds v United States (USSC, 1879) where the opinion of the court was:
The court argued that if polygamy was allowed, someone might eventually argue that human sacrifice was a necessary part of their religion, and "to permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself." The Court believed the true spirit of the First Amendment was that Congress could not legislate against opinion, but could legislate against action.

Don't troll on this site please.
StrongDreams
7. Dreadpiratk
The problem with this type of work is that it is so a-historical as to be unbelievable. The only regimes in the real world that force everyone to believe the same things are atheistic. It's socialists that put people in camps and 're-educate' them. but libs, being largely ignorant of history, think everyone else is as well. Too bad, is sounds like this could have been a decent read with a more believable story. Personally I hate treatise novels of any stripe, and this sounds like one.
StrongDreams
8. tariqata
Um, I think it's pretty absurd to argue that only "atheistic regimes" force people to believe (or profess belief in) the same things; the US has, after all, actively fought one war against a theocratic regime and has continued to fight its remnants for the past decade. One would expect a certain familiarity with the Taliban at this point - and that's not to mention Iran.

Article 5 sounds like an interesting book. The synopsis given here reminds me inevitably of certain elements from The Handmaid's Tale, but with a much more action-oriented story.
StrongDreams
9. wizard clip
Really, Dreadpiratk, if you are as well versed in history as you suggest, you know how foolish your statements are. In addition to the Islamic theocracies mentioned by tariqata, you might recall Christianity's 1000+ years of control over the religious (and often material) lives of the populations of Europe (in both its Catholic and later Protestant forms). The Inquisition, does that ring a bell? The expulsion of Jews from England, France, Spain? The centuries of religious warfare in France and England that came as a result of everyone choosing to not believe the same thing (and the horror these wars brought leading our founding fathers to create safegaurds against religious tyranny)?

Sorry, but for your trolling to be effective, the readers of this site would have to be as ignorant as you wish we were.
john mullen
10. johntheirishmongol
After reading the excerpt that was published earlier, I thought it was a pretty laughable premise and pretty much a pander to liberal sensibilities. It isn't an original idea, but RAH did it in a novel without pandering. I suspect this novel will have pretty limited interest.
StrongDreams
11. akabob
@wizard clip,

I usually never comment, but I couldn't let this one stand. You wrote
"...founding fathers to create safegaurds against religious tyranny"

The constitution was designed to protect religion from government, not the other way around. Please check the founding documents, such as the federalist papers and others, to get a better understanding of this.

Also, religion has been made the scapegoat in all of the examples you cited, where in reality it was governments who usurped religion to claim they are acting in God's name that were at fault. I am not saying that some of those who profess religion, even leaders, have not done bad things, but we need to ask if they were really following their religion?

Since I am most familar with Christianity, and if you will bear with me, I have some scriptures that will show leaders have not always followed their religion.

In Matthew 22, we read that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second greatest is " ...Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

and chapter 5 verse 44

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;"

And how do we know they are not following their religion?
Matthew chapter 7,

verse 16"Ye shall know them by their fruits..."

verse 21 "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;"

In other words, you judge a person by what they do. If the person professes religion, but performs evil acts (aka fruits), they are not following their religion no matter how loudly they protest otherwise.
StrongDreams
12. wizard clip
@akabob:

For the most part we are in agreement, but I would modify some of your statements. The First Amendment is clearly designed to go both ways, to protect religion from government intrusion, but also to protect the people from the missuse of religious authority.

Regarding my other examples, some of them are, as you say, cases where governments usurped and abused religious power. But not all of them. The Inquisition was instituted and conducted by the Catholic Church (sometimes with the cooperation of the civil authorities, sometimes without). During the English Civil War, the Puritan forces clearly believed God was on their side, citing scripture in which God commands the Israelites to wipe out their enemies and leaving nothing alive. In other words, it has not always been a case of tyrants manipulating and exploiting the faithful. Many historical atrocities have been committed by those who sincerely believed they were doing God's work. Now, you might argue that they were deluded. Fair enough, but at the same time their larger societies often sancitoned their actions.

In the end my comments were not intended as an attack on religion itself. All ideologies--both secular and religious-- are subject to abuse by those who use them as an excuse for not thinking or placing themselves on some sort of moral pinnacle from which they can condemn others. I was merely responding to Dreadpiratek's simplistic, black and white statements. That he is this very type of ideologue is of course betrayed by his use of the derisive term "lib."

In contrast, akabob, it's refreshing to read your civil response on a message board. Even though we might not completely agree on the subtleties of this matter, it's good to know that a reasonable discussion is possible.
Eugenie Delaney
13. EmpressMaude
tariqata @8.

"The synopsis given here reminds me inevitably of certain elements from The Handmaid's Tale, but with a much more action-oriented story."

That was my thought, except I thought more along the lines of it being the bastard lovechild of The Handmaid's Tale and The Hunger Games - think of Katniss Everdeen as Offred, and how much more exciting life in Gilead would have been if Offred was a huntress with excellent wilderness survival skills instead of a former librarian.
StrongDreams
14. StacyB
It's interesting that many people assume that the dictatorship described in this book resulted from conservatism. When I looked at it my first thought was that it was a world formed by extreme liberalism.

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