The Threat Unseen by Matthew S. Cox

Front cover of The Threat Unseen by Matthew S. CoxCox continues to blend realistic dangers of a shattered world with the strong human capability for decency and society, creating another instalment of post-apocalyptic survival that provides all the action without becoming bleak or cheesy.

This is the seventh book in Cox’s Evergreen series. Probable spoilers for past volumes ahead.

In the two years since nuclear war shattered the USA, Evergreen has grown into a thriving town. Much of the technology is at frontier level or heading that way, but for Harper Cody community is more important than the latest gadgets, so things are feeling good. However, not everyone with the skill and drive to survive the war is interested in rebuilding the best of liberal society so she still can’t completely relax. Unfortunately, when she does discover a major threat to Evergreen, it’s one she can’t scare off or kill.

Cox continues his portrayal of a more plausible aftermath to the apocalypse. The hyperfocus on surviving the next day or even hour of the first book has, two in-world years later, been replaced by a pervasive sense that surviving is about all the days and years that come after too. While many of the challenges are thus longer term or less immediately deadly, Cox skilfully evokes both their threat and the stress this can cause, creating an engaging re-envisioning of frontier sagas such as Bonanza.

However, this novel is not solely family dramas and ongoing problems to be solved: there are, as in previous volumes, immediate threats both from humans and environment. Thus, while there are no mutant animal packs or high-fashion punk dune buggy gangs, the book does not lack the fast-paced action of more extravagant apocalypse narratives.

In parallel with the realistic changes in Evergreen, Cox’s marauders and other groups are similarly plausible examples of evolutionary “fitness”: strategies that work well or poorly in the chaos of a nuclear strike can be considerably worse or better after the easily takeable resources are gone; thus, the map of humanity is shaped by a mix of fortune and adaptability as much as a sense of manifest destiny.

Contrasting with growing of human societies, the human-world-that-was continues to degrade. Mostly this results in the loss of the patchy modern amenities that survived, which does make life less comfortable and medically more dangerous but can be countered by innovation and the greater ease of relearning existing knowledge. However, with bio-labs, nuclear facilities, and other products of advanced science having potentially survived but lacking the skilled people needed to look after them safely, Cox also conjures the malaise that comes from the distant unthinking possibility of extinction.

The novel ends with the key challenges that incited the plot now solved but broader issues and threats remaining. This does leave the series open for continuation, but Cox provides emotional closure so—while readers who have read this far in the series are likely to enjoy the thought of their being more—the overall feeling is one that life will go on in Evergreen rather that that the story has been left mid-telling.

Although Cox is skilled at both portraying an engaging world and weaving in reminders of past events without damaging the sense of immediacy, the situation and characters of this novel rely heavily enough on the nuances of what has happened before that it is unlikely to be the ideal starting point for new readers.

Harper continues to be a highly sympathetic protagonist, having a strength of character and drive to engage with issues that mean she is neither angsty nor passive, yet also possessing lingering fragments of doubt and weakness that make her feel like a plausible survivor of an immense trauma rather than some superficial strong female hero.

Harper’s family and community are similarly complex and nuanced, having grown into more functional and interconnected versions of themselves, but in ways that are strongly driven by necessity and that have left jagged angles beneath the returning civilisation.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking a plausible and nuanced portrayal of life after a nuclear war.

I received a free copy from the author with no request for a review.

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.