Review: The Penal Colony by Richard Herley


This is the story of Anthony Routledge, a former surveyor wrongly accused of murder and condemned to spend the rest of his days on the on the bleak island of Serte, where Britain’s worst convicted criminals have been abandoned to fend for themselves.

Following his initiation he is accepted into ‘The Village’, a semi fortified peninsula within the boundries of which a group of prisoners have formed a society based on rigid protocol and hierarchy. Beyond its boundries the ‘Outsiders’ exist in a state of perpetual tribal war.
Routledge learns to fulfill his duties and to insulate himself from the bluff formality of his companions with an icy indifference but as war with the Outsiders looms he discovers that doing what it takes to survive in the Village will also involve putting his life on the line to defend it in a bloody war to the knife.
Herley’s rich prose places us firmly in Serte’s rugged, windswept landscape. It puts us on uncomfortably intimate terms with the moral degeneracy of the Outsiders and it allows us into the secretive almost monastic life of the Village.
We are also privy to Routledge’s ruthless self examination as he makes the painful journey from despair through, isolation and loneliness and finally to acceptance and inclusion in a plan to escape the island.
Bringing together the darkness of Orwell’s 1984 and the savagery of Benchley’s The Island, the Penal Colony is more than a chilling read, it is an unsettling examination of our own base instincts for survival.

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