The Devil's Children (The Changes: Book One) (1970) by Peter Dickinson
Pbk, Laurel-Leaf Fantasy, 187 p.
This YA novel, which is the first in a trilogy, has an interesting premise: something (it is not clear as of yet whether it is magical or technological) has caused much of the population of England to react violently against anything mechanical. Riots and mass chaos ensue, plague runs rampant, society quickly degenerates, and a girl named Nicky Gore is separated from her family. Nicky eventually falls in with a band of traveling Sikhs, who do not suffer the same aversion to technology. Because of this, they are not always certain what might bring violence upon them - those like Nicky, who feel the effects of the Change, are likely to react murderously when confronted with engines and other devices. They originally take on Nicky as a "canary", to tell them when they are acting dangerously, but she quickly finds friendship and a home of sorts with them. The Sikhs are eventually able to settle outside a small farming community (which is rapidly degenerating into feudalism) and make a living doing metal work, but they are mistrusted, and their existence remains perilous.
There are some very cool things about this book. The premise, like I said, is fascinating, although it's a little frustrating not to have any kind of explanation for the Change (on the other hand, the fact that there's no easy answer is kind of neat). You also don't run into many YA novels that explore any aspect of Sikh culture, so that also makes this stand out from other similar novels. My only real complaint is that it seemed that the character of Nicky was slighted in terms of development. I didn't feel Dickinson gave the reader much of a sense of what she'd been like prior to the Change, so it was hard to understand if her toughness came from her experiences during the riots, or if she had always been as strong-minded as she comes across in the novel. The ending was also quite abrupt, but since it's the first book in a trilogy, that might be expected.