This novel is a post-apocalyptic road movie through the eyes of an innocent, both providing a story filled with adventure and peril, and questioning whether the collapse of civilisation must leave us uncivilised.
The events of this book take place after Cox’s The Awakened series. Spoilers ahead.
Following the defeat of Archon, Althea has returned to Querq. With an adoptive family who love her and a new-found acceptance that she can use her powers to defend herself if needed, her biggest worries are learning to read and her more-than-friendship with Den. However, her willingness to help anyone who asks and decision not to submit to kidnapping any more doesn’t stop people wanting to own the Prophet for themselves.
The story starts shortly after the end of Angel Descended with Althea facing the challenges that come from being a child with a loving family rather than a tool that happens to be alive: learning things that seem pointless, puzzling out why adults like playing kissyface, being told to wait until you’re older. Added to these are the challenges of being an immensely powerful psionic who has previously been used as a tool: wondering if people are nice or nasty because of what you are, an instant of worry that strangers are a threat.
These themes of technological vs tribal life and optimism vs. caution continue throughout the plot as Cox takes the reader into new variations on pockets of technology scattered among post-apocalyptic ruins.
While this novel does not continue the arc of The Awakened, so could be read straight after Prophet of the Badlands, the events of that entire series shape Althea’s view of the world; some of her dilemmas and decisions might therefore have a lower emotional impact for readers unfamiliar with that series.
Both his narrator’s innocence and the innocence of the world to its past allow Cox greater opportunity for humour; as such, the novel features plenty of logical—yet humorously incorrect—chains of reasoning and other dramatic ironies, from corporations viewed as gods to stop signs honoured despite the absence of a road or traffic.
However, these misunderstandings—while amusing—do not cross the line into farce. Instead they are islands of levity in a world where suffering is routine, a moment for the reader to draw breath before the banality of evil gut-punches them again.
Althea is a highly sympathetic character. Her simple perspective and desire to not do bad provide a real limitation on her theoretically immense powers, creating real challenge while avoiding her seeming passive. Combined with goals that, while childlike are not childish, this is likely to leave the reader wishing the world were more trustworthy and comprehensible rather than irritated by her lack of a more“mature” perspective.
The supporting cast are both fitting and nuanced, providing a firm framework of post-apocalyptic tropes and varying perspectives on naivety vs cynicism and complexity vs simplicity, while remaining first and foremost complex and interesting characters.
Overall, I enjoyed this book greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking a science-fiction adventure that provides both depth and pace.
I received a free advance copy from the author with no request for a review.