There's a reason Malorie Blackman has been made Children's Laureate, and that reason is that she is an excellent storyteller.
Noble Conflict is a layered look at a dystopian world where deadly force is not deployed against enemies. Instead, "terrorists" are stunned, and they are always treated well, even getting medical help before Alliance Guardians are.
Into this world comes Kasper, who has just completed his training as a Guardian. Proud to be serving his country - like his dead parents before him who were legendary Guardians - Kasper soon starts to realise everything is not as it seems. As he learns more and more about the world around him, he discovers that what he believes in and is fighting for may have been constructed on lies.
Knowledge is at the centre of Blackman's book - Kasper quickly learns that knowledge is power, but that the leaders of his world are working on the basis that the ignorance of their population is what makes them powerful.
It's a chance encounter with an Insurgent, the fighting arm of the Alliance's enemies the Crusaders, that sets Kasper on his path to knowledge, although you can see the cogs beginning to turn even before that. This is what I liked most about Kasper - he wasn't afraid to question things, and to fight for what he believed was right. It's that belief that kept him going throughout Noble Conflict, even when the boundaries of his world changed.
Rhea, the Insurgent Kasper meets, is an interesting character, but one we only really know through Kasper. Literally. After their encounter Kasper gets flashes of her life, and it's through these that he, and we, begin to suspect something is up. Kasper's encounters with Rhea reveal a lot - both about the Alliance and the Crusaders, and about Kasper himself.
Aside from Rhea, Noble Conflict is full of strong female characters, such as Guardians Janna and Mariska, who we only see briefly but who kick arse.
I loved Mac especially, the nerdy librarian who helps Kasper with his research and opens up a world of learning for him. If this was a conventional YA novel, Rhea, Kasper and Mac's relationship would be a love triangle. Luckily, this isn't a conventional novel, and although Mac and Rhea are pitted as opposites, they're never pitted against each other as rivals for Kasper's affections.
This choice is one of the reasons why Noble Conflict is higher class of YA novel than some out there. The other reasons include that it's a thought provoking novel about how we should question our leaders, and another still is that it's a beautifully crafted story - Blackman tells you everything her characters know and need to know, and nothing more. It makes for something quite poignant (even though I spent the last third of the novel yelling at various characters in my head), and as a standalone I thought it ended just right.
How I got this book: From the library