Francis Urquhart #1: House of Cards by Michael Dobbs (Harper Collins)

Chief whip Francis Urquhart has his hand on every secret in politics – and is willing to betray them all to become Prime Minister.

Mattie Storin is a tenacious young political correspondent. She faces the biggest challenge of her life when she stumbles upon a scandalous web of intrigue and financial corruption at the very highest levels. She is determined to reveal the truth, but she must risk everything to do so.

Netflix’s House of Cards is consistently one of the strongest TV shows that I’ve seen, with Kevin Spacey playing one of the most scheming, ruthless characters that you’ll see in the role of the ‘protagonist’ on TV, offering a fantastic portrayal of an anti-hero. It updates Michael Dobbs’ classic political thriller to modern times, switching the setting to America and making it a modern masterpiece, filled with unexpected twists and turns. It’s exciting, addictive television at its best, and ever since I watched the first episode, the original Michael Dobbs novel that inspired it all, House of Cards, is something that I really wanted to check out and when I finally got the chance through a Goodreads Giveaway, I leapt at it and was not disappointed, as it’s safe to say that this novel is one of the strongest political thrillers that I’ve had the chance to read.

First off, if you’ve put off reading this book because you want to remain spoiler-free on the show, it isn’t a problem –there’s several differences and that’s not just because they’re set in different countries. The Netflix show is very loosely based on this novel, and it almost feels like two different experiences, which is good to see, and because it’s part of a trilogy there’s not a lot of chance that you will be spoiled until the end.

The book itself follows the scheming anti-hero Francis Urquhart as he navigates his way from Chief Whip up the ranks of Parliament, gathering every secret on his opposition, and his friends, in order to reach the top job. However, Francis has to watch out for Political Correspondent Mattie Storin (the original version of Kate Mara’s Zoe Barnes, in case you didn’t realise), a young journalist who stumbles across a mysterious web of intrigue that stretches right into the heart of the Government. She’s about to learn the cost it takes to reveal the truth, and  could risk everything in doing so.

House of Cards sets the scene for what should be a gripping trilogy and it very much feels like the opening act in the series, much like Season 1 of the show. It establishes Francis and his addiction to power pretty well, as it opens after the beginning of the latest General Election (we’ve recently had one in the UK), and it’s pretty certain that those who are in power aren’t really going to have a grip on it for much longer once Urquhart is done with them. He’s cunning, manipulative and the sort of person who you really wouldn’t want to run into, or pass over for a strong position in the cabinet, which is what happens here, and that sets Urquhart out on a mission for revenge.

Even though this is the UK novel and the book and show are very loosely adapted, you can certainly read Kevin Spacey’s voice in the character, and that’s what I was doing when reading this book. It again serves as a reminder that I need to check out the original BBC series which is I believe also on Netflix, and as I’ve been told by multiple people it’s superior to the American version. It’s certainly in my queue, regardless.

Serving as much more as a character driven plot than a plot-heavy novel, Michael Dobbs uses this to his advantage and really fleshes out the main characters very well. Francis Urquhart is one of the most well defined characters in political fiction ever and he’s instantly one of the most memorable, leaving a very good impression on readers even if they haven’t seen the show. Whilst US readers may struggle to get to grips with the UK politics, it’s very much the same the other way around when UK folks watch the show. But that doesn’t stop either experience being incredibly engrossing, captivating and fantastic, and as a result, Michael Dobbs’ House of Cards comes as something that I’d most certainly recommend to anyone looking for a good political thriller.

VERDICT: 8.9/10

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