The Compelled, a novella written by Adam Roberts and illustrated by François Schuiten, portrays a slightly futuristic world. The majority of the population now harbors a compulsion to move objects to build enormous structures with unknown purposes.


A most curious behavioral transformation seems to be plaguing humanity. People are suddenly overcome with an intense yearning to remove an object and place them in another site. The said objects might be ordinary, such as a knife or a book. Or, they could be as complicated as a telescope or a supercomputer core. The destination site might be a world away from the source. The source site could be located at the bottom of the sea. There is seemingly no discernible pattern to this unprecedented occurrence dubbed ‘Compulsion.’ This continuous reshuffling gave rise to many constructions around the globe. While each is an architect’s dream, no one is sure about their purpose. The Compelled, a science fiction novella written by Adam Roberts and illustrated by François Schuiten, presents such an enigma to the readers.

Both Roberts and Schuiten have won multiple awards in their respective fields. This novella bears undeniable proof of their expertise. I loved the slightly dystopian theme that showed a near-future earth fundamentally altered by the phenomenon of Compulsion. The speculative nature of the novella came into play as the complete picture of Compulsion gradually emerged. While it was difficult to ponder all the ramifications, the newly developed reality terrified me. The entire socio-political scenario underwent a massive change, with new legislation in place to protect the Compelled. Grudges and violence against the Compelled population were quite common. Even racial discrimination went up a notch against the backdrop of Compulsion. However, the corrupt nature of the society remained the same, with the politicians trying to use the situation to their advantage and opportunistic people masquerading as Compelled and stealing amenities.

Throughout the havoc, the Compelled kept building their extraordinary structures. With the pages gradually revealing the true nature of Compulsion, the readers became as baffled as the characters. What could be the ultimate purpose of building elaborate and complicated structures that seemingly had no immediate use? Was it in God’s plan, as some believed? Was it a master plan of the aliens trying to invade the Earth, as others surmised? Roberts kept this curiosity alive till the end. The cliffhanger ending served to keep the readers anticipating. I believe the next installments of this series will shed more light on the conundrum.

Each chapter started with an eye-catching illustration from Schuiten. They had a uniform theme, yet their styles were distinctly different. They perfectly captured the vastness and majesty of the sculptures. They further helped us assess the scope of Compulsion as they were spread throughout the world. While Roberts told the story in words, Schuiten enhanced the experience through illustrations. I especially liked the one that showed gargantuan humanoid faces gazing upwards. It seemed to evoke a sense of dread as they were witnesses of a chaotic future.

I recommend The Compelled to any reader who appreciates speculative fiction. Despite its short length, the novella was both quirky and thought-provoking. I cannot wait to find out the mystery of Compulsion and am looking forward to reading the next books in the series. 

Book Details

  • Title: The Compelled
  • Author: Adam Roberts
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Theme: First Contact, Futuristic World
  • Publication Date: August 25 2020
  • ISBN or ASIN: B08D8QX21N
  • Number of Pages: 166
  • Minimum Audience Age: 15

Book Themes

(Note: 0=none, 1=a few, 2=considerable, 3=pronounced, 4=excessive)

  • Sexual themes: 0
  • Religious themes: 0
  • Violence, self-harm, etc.: 0
  • Crude language, expletives, swearing, etc.: 3
  • Other adult themes: 1


  • Content: 5 stars
  • Writing Style: 5 stars
  • Appeal to Target Audience: 5 stars
  • Uniqueness: 5 stars
  • Editing: 5 stars
  • Other factors: 4 stars
  • Overall: 4.8 out of 5

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By Shrabastee Chakraborty

An avid reader, a reviewer, and a beta-reader, I love books from diverse genres.

One thought on “A Book Review by Shrabastee: “The Compelled” by Adam Roberts”
  1. The premise of this book is as intriguing as they come. But most of all, I applaud that the author and you didn’t hesitate to remark how every phenomenon has social repercussions that we should always consider.

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