Combining a character-focused post-apocalyptic survival narrative with hints of a wider, potentially supernatural, story, Bunker and Cole have created a novel that works as both an individual work and an entry point to other story arcs set in the same world.
Following ‘the Blindness’ five years previously, civilisation has fallen apart. The Texas Badlands are wastelands prey to feral cannibals and criminal gangs. As the last clusters of sanity fall, a group of children, led by Ellis, attempt to build a life in a hidden valley. Although hostile terrain and inadequate resources already drag them towards a slow death from malnutrition, will the arrival of a man who worships destruction deny them even that little life?
This novel is set in the shared universe of Wonderment Media’s Apocalypse Weird plot. However, Bunker and Cole – for the most part – avoid both heavy duplication of information and relying on the reader having read other the other story lines. The plot arc of the book benefits from a similar self-sufficiency, resulting in a story that – while it does raise questions about the wider world and future events – can be enjoyed as a stand-alone work.
Unfortunately, the chapter that least displays this is the first. Called chapter one but functioning as a prologue, it tells the reader that the apocalypse is happening and has something to do with not being able to see, and that it is terrible, but provides little explanation of why it is apocalyptic. In addition, what little information it does provide that adds to the reader’s understanding of later events could easily have been provided within those scenes. As Cole’s own Wasteland Saga demonstrates, post-apocalyptic narratives do not need to open with the apocalypse, so the first chapter both feels unnecessary and gives an overly negative impression of the quality of the writing.
Once past this hiccup, Bunker and Cole flow into a series of fast-paced, interlocking narratives. Saving the majority of the page time for Ellis and his band of orphaned children, they use interludes showing both other characters and times to provide new perspectives and a sense of dramatic irony. This gives the reader a sense of the wider picture without diluting the mundane horror of the children’s day-to-day struggle by exposing them immediately to bigger threats.
Ellis is a well-realised main protagonist. Barely in his twenties himself, he displays a self-doubt entirely fitting for someone whose comfortable childhood was swallowed by disaster, combined with the forcefulness needed to have survived.
The other children are equally well-written, balancing varying amounts of immaturity and precocious grit entirely plausible for their ages and characters.
But it is in the antagonists, that Bunker and Cole truly lift this above the average post-apocalyptic survival tale. The characters of Mayhem and the Horde are the inhumanity-as-a-choice and inhumanity-as-no-choice of monster movies, but between the pioneer ethic of those seeking to just survive and these horrors are graduations of characters: metal gatherers who steal and kill but will trade when it is a better option; biker gangs who ravage not from true choice but from inadequate socialisation.
The copy I received contained a number of errors in formatting and ebook structure. While I would usually put this down to it being an advance review copy, there is a section in the book where what might appear an error is a deliberate effect. I therefore suggest readers check any anomalies rather than assuming it is only a glitch.
Overall – once past the first chapter – I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers who enjoy thrillers or dystopian fiction.
I received a free copy in exchange for a fair review.