The Carhullan Army

By Sarah Hall. Published in the UK in 2007. (Published in the United States in 2008 under the title Daughters of the North, but that’s a meaningless, generic title, and I’d rather not use it.)

The dramatic arc of The Carhullan Army is a fascinating one. At first it seems that author Sarah Hall is telling the story of a resistance movement—an uprising that will climax in either triumph or failure—but in fact, her focus is much sharper and more provocative. The Carhullan Army is not a story of resistance but of re-creation, a story of why and how a cowed civilian might rebuild herself as a hardened soldier.

Hall doesn’t romanticize. Her protagonist’s journey is riveting but deeply unsettling, marked by characters who don’t slip easily into categories of “good” and “bad” and who follow a course that may or may not be for the best. With such dark shades of gray on its canvas, the novel might have been horribly depressing (and some might argue that is still is) were it not so vividly, fearlessly, brutally alive.