Review of Shift by Kim Curran

Title: Shift
Author: Kim Curran
Published: 4 September 2012
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Genre: YA, action-adventure, science fiction
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 5/10

Scott Tyler is an average 16-year-old loser. He’s gangly, geeky, and stays home alone playing video games on weekends. One night a friend invites him to hang out with the popular kids in a park. In a stupid attempt to prove his bravery to them, Scott decides to climb a pylon, even though the last kid who tried it got a testicle ripped off (yeah, eww). As he nears the top, Scott looks down, freaks out and loses his balance. As he falls he regrets his decision, and then suddenly finds himself lying on the ground, unharmed. A mysterious, beautiful girl at the park ‘arrests’ him, and explains that Scott just shifted – he altered reality by changing a decision that he made.

The girl – Aubrey – gives him the run-down on the world of shifting, and warns him about ARES, a government agency that tracks down, trains and regulates Shifters. Aubrey works for ARES, but she has her reservations about them, so she tells Scott to stay away. Scott, however, is thrilled at the prospect of being able to erase all his bad decisions. He also likes the idea of training with ARES and almost never seeing his family, because his parents fight pretty much constantly. He willingly gives himself up to ARES and begins their training programme. He proves himself to be a talented Shifter, but soon gets caught up in a dangerous conspiracy.

Shift is a short, fast-paced action adventure novel. Many reviewers have compared it to the movie The Butterfly Effect, which I really enjoyed. Shift is nothing like that movie. It doesn’t need to be, but a comparison is useful. From what I remember, The Butterfly Effect was fairly vague about how the main character was able to change his decisions. We knew what he did to make the change, but we weren’t told how and why it was possible. The focus was on the effects of his decisions and how he had to work through different scenarios until he found the ideal. Shift, on the other hand, goes into more detail about the science of shifting, and focuses less on the consequences of different decisions. The downfall is that it constantly trips up on its own technicalities, while lacking the aspect of the plot that I thought would be the most interesting.

Firstly, lets discuss the shifting. It’s written about in great detail (giving us some very clumsy infodumps), but remains confusing. To undo a decision, Shifters think about that decision, change it, and then find themselves in the altered present reality. They don’t go back in time, and they don’t relive the past. It’s more like they flick a switch from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ (or vice versa) and then instantly find themselves having to cope with the new reality. Aubrey explains that this has to do with quantum physics and changing reality by observing it. There is only one reality, but there are infinite potential realities, and I think Shifters make a potential reality the new reality whenever they shift. It’s all kind of vague and Scott never really understands it himself, but is reassured that “if anyone thought they understood quantum physics they really didn’t”. I don’t either, but I’m plagued by a feeling that this whole idea doesn’t quite work.

When you shift, you replace one reality with another, and then the old reality quickly fades from memory. So how do Shifters even remember shifting long enough to master the skill? Scott is inexplicably different in that he can remember the old reality, but according to the physics, there is only one reality, so how can he retain a memory of something that was technically never in existence? And as it turns out, a normal Shifter can remember it too, if you tell them what happened and they think hard about it.

I have more questions, but I’m so thoroughly confused about the specifics that I can’t really articulate myself properly so I’ll drop the issue. There are plenty of others for me to discuss, like the important details that sometimes don’t make sense, or get ignored when it’s convenient to do so.

Shifters can only change a decision once, which has some consequences for the plot but seems like an arbitrary rule. Shifting abilities normally manifest in childhood but when Shifters hit their twenties, they go through ‘entropy’ and the ability fades. Aubrey explains that this is because adults have differently shaped brains, and asks if Scott has “ever met an adult who could change their mind on anything”. The last bit is stupid and confusing – we all change our minds all the time, regardless of age. Shifting is about changing decisions like whether or not to make a phone call or buy a cup of coffee; it’s not about changing beliefs.

ARES apparently uses Shifters to alter the course of history and prevent terrible things from happening, like wars, assassinations or catastrophic accidents. In a ‘history’ class, a teacher tells his students about disasters that were averted, but how the hell does he know about them, when they didn’t actually happen? The teacher also tells his students that if they have influential parents, they should watch them closely in case they need to change their parents’ actions. However, the children at ARES are taken from their families and live at the agency, so if their parents do anything of importance, they’d be powerless to do anything about it.

We’re told that ARES can register and trace shifts to a specific location (although we’re not told how). However, Scott makes a crucial shift in the middle of story that ARES doesn’t even notice (if they did, things would go a lot less smoothly for him). At one point there’s a shift that makes absolutely no sense. Scott is typing an important document, and someone shifts and changes the words, allowing Scott to realise that there’s a cover-up going on. We’re told very clearly that your shifts can only affect your own decisions, but it’s not Scott who’s shifting, and only he can change the decision about what to type. For this single moment, shifting is suddenly just about altering reality, not about changing decisions.

There are more plot holes, but you get my point.

Then there’s the problem of the novel not fully exploring the consequences of your decisions. The blurb mentions “terrible unforeseen consequences” and Aubrey warns Scott about these as well, but really there’s only one truly bad effect that occurs early in the novel, and it’s easily remedied. Most shifts are actually beneficial (like Scott saving his own life). Also, very few shifts have wide-ranging consequences, because most of them are used to change very recent decisions. For example, a lot of shifting in the novel is for fighting – every time a fighter makes a move that doesn’t work for them, they shift and use a different tactic. Except for one shift that Scott makes early on, no one is going around changing old decisions that have dramatic and interesting consequences. I thought the novel would explore the idea of being able to undo the stupid, embarrassing things you do at school – wouldn’t every teenager want that power? And wouldn’t they use it without considering the consequences? But this isn’t really about the consequences of your decisions. It’s just a standard loser-turned-hero tale.

Scott is too perfect, embodying the old fantasy of a loser becoming a teen James Bond with superpowers. It’s a good fantasy, but Curran overdoes it. Early in the novel, Scott shifts to a reality in which he does kickboxing, so he changes from being a skinny, unfit boy into a muscular guy who can hold his own in a fight. When he starts training at ARES, it takes him about an hour to learn how to fight using his shifting skills, and soon after we’re told that he’s the best shifter the teacher has ever trained, even though the other students have been doing this for years. Which apparently isn’t all that surprising, because shifters who manifest at such a late age are particularly powerful. And yes, Scott turns out to be one of the greatest shifters ever. How convenient. He still says and does some stupid things for comic effect, but that’s intended to add some charm to his character. Is this just meant to be wish fulfilment for boys who feel like losers?

Aubrey certainly caters to that – she’s hot, feisty and smells like vanilla. There’s not much else to her character, but her looks and scent are all Scott needs to fall for her. She’s aloof and too cool for him, but you know she’ll be kissing him by the end.

The romance feels nothing like a typically awkward teen romance, and in fact both characters seem a lot older than they’re supposed to be. Aubrey is 15, but she earns a salary, lives in her own apartment, and has a relatively high-ranking position in a government agency, meaning that there are actually adults who have to take orders from her. She and Scott do things like interview potential recruits, investigate a rogue agent, and write the official report for a murder. At 15 and 16? I don’t think so.

Reading this, I felt like it belonged in a class of sub-standard fiction for teens, kind of like Goosebumps novels. The emphasis is on action, with some romance designed to appeal to both boys and girls. It’s pretty gross sometimes, and includes a monstrously fat bad guy who likes to eat brains. There’s quite a bit of humour, which didn’t always work for me, although the light tone won me over eventually. The sloppy details continued to bug me regardless. I read a lot of this sort of thing when I was a teenager – Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, R.L. Stine, and a bunch of other equally forgettable books. They’re ok if you don’t take them too seriously or think about them too hard. If you’re fine with that, then you might like Shift. But I wish  hadn’t bothered.

Buy a copy of Shift at The Book Depository

Review of Railsea by China Miéville

Title: Railsea
Author: China Miéville
Published: 24 May 2012 (first published 1 May)
Publisher: Macmillan
Genre: YA, action-adventure, science fiction
Source: review copy from Pan Macmillan SA
Rating: 8/10

Sham ap Soorap doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but for now he’s working as a doctor’s assistant on a moletrain called the Medes. The crew hunts the giant moles that burrow beneath the earth of the railsea – a land covered in endlessly lopping rails that can take you anywhere, but never in a straight line. Trains travel the railsea likes ships do the ocean.

Sham likes the travel but he doesn’t like the killing; what really excites him is salvage, the treasured junk of the railsea, left behind by previous generations and visitors from other worlds. When the Medes comes across a wrecked train,. Sham goes aboard, eager for treasure, and finds the catalyst for an epic adventure – footage of open land with only a single rail running through it. The very thought of such a place is dizzying. No one knows what lies beyond the railsea; it’s like travelling to the end of the earth.

Sham would immediately follow every clue from the footage to find the people pictured in it and learn more about that terrifyingly singular rail, but his captain isn’t remotely interested. Like many railsea captains, she’s chasing a ‘philosophy’ – a monstrously huge creature that, like a conventional philosophy, “embodies meanings, potentialities, ways of looking at the world” (85). In a homage to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Captain Naphi’s philosophy is a giant ivory-coloured mole named Mocker-Jack (there was a real-life Moby-Dick named Mocha Dick). For Nahpi, the mole is a symbol, a “burrowing signifier”, and by chasing it she learns more about what it represents to her. She is literally on the hunt for knowledge.

Captain Naphi would never abandon her ivory philosophy, so Sham finds a way to make her obsession serve his. His actions spark a quest to travel beyond the boundaries of the known world, and captures the dangerous attention of pirates, salvors and anyone else who desires the treasures at the end of the world.

It could be said that this is China Miéville’s second YA novel (after Un Lun Dun), but I’d say it defies age. Sham and some of the other protagonists are teenagers, but don’t assume the ideal reader should be the same age. Instead, think of Railsea as a quintessential action-adventure novel about a daring journey of discovery and self-discovery. Out of the Mieville novels I’ve read, this is one of the most fun to read.

The plot is slow at first, but this is Miéville – his bizarre worlds deserve a proper introduction. Although it feels like fantasy, Railsea is a sci fi novel set on a far-future Earth. Our own time is described as “astoundingly long ago” (98) and the world has changed vastly. It has a steampunk feel thanks to the trains and odd tech, but I think of it more as junkpunk, because the world is defined by junk. This isn’t as bad as it sounds; junk is salvage, treasure, and there are explorers who spend their lives on the rails in search of it. The junk of our age is the ancient “arche-salvage”; more recent stuff is called “nu-salvage”. The most prized salvage, is “alt-salvage”, the weird, often incomprehensible objects left behind by aliens who used the planet as a dumping ground.

Their brief visits also changed the very structure of the world, its ecosystems, and its wildlife. Humans inhabit the railsea and the landmasses within it, but there are several other layers above and below. These are dominated by strange, mostly dangerous creatures. Some are gargantuan versions of our own animals and insects (there’s no full explanation for how this happened), while others are entirely alien. This might be a future world, but it has the sense of danger that characterises the old world, full of monstrous beasts normally found only in myth. People see the ground between the rails as poisonous, which comes across as silly superstition until Sham finds himself alone on the ground and is suddenly terrified of the creatures that could burrow up from beneath to eat him.

On the whole, Miéville’s worldbulding is simply lovely. In addition to the main narrative, there are lots of beautiful little infodump chapters in which he tells us about his world as if we were travellers, students and poets enraptured by the railsea. He also waxes lyrical about the story itself – the narrative, the point of view, the characters. This is very much a novel about storytelling and about myth. Early on, Miéville explains the structure of the world and mentions the littoral zone – the shore between the railsea and the land. To this he adds some local sentiment:

“Give me the inland or give me the open rails,” say both the railsailor and the landlubber, “only spare me the littoral-minded.” (29)

I love the wordplay here. The disdain for the “littoral-minded”, I think, is also an expression of disdain for the literal-minded, who I interpret to be those who cannot appreciate fantasy, sci fi, myth, or any other fiction that eagerly wanders beyond the factual. And perhaps it is also a warning against those who fail to appreciate metaphor and symbol, tools that make compelling, meaningful stories and which Miéville brings to life with his gargantuan philosophies.

The characters also have to face the problem of taking their own myths literally. This altered world comes with fresh creation myths, gods and religions. Who created the railsea? A common belief is that it was put in place by gods and is protected and maintained by fearsome angels. Another theory is that a fight between the gods are the start of the world caused the railsea to rise out of the earth. But can they really take this at face value? In the voyage to a realm beyond the railsea, the characters also find themselves exploring these myths and their origins.

And now, it must be said, that this quest makes for an absolutely fantastic story. The journey/quest/voyage is one of my favourite plots, and after a slow start, Railsea moves with the exhilarating speed of a runaway train. The novel also has some wonderful characters. My favourites were the unbelievably bold and determined Shroake siblings who head out into the unknown before anyone else and are never put off by what they might find or the many people who will try to kill them. The most adorable character is undoubtedly Sham’s pet daybat, Daybe, who is described at one point as a “brave and determined mouse-sized bodyguard”. You come to love and admire these characters, and then the novel throws them into thrilling, life-threatening, life-changing adventure. Miéville frequently writes the most enjoyably cerebral stories, but in Railsea he also delivers sheer unbridled entertainment. I think it’s definitely one of Miéville’s most fun, charming novels, and it’s an excellent introduction to the rest of his work.

Of course, it has the signature features that are the reason I love this author – the weird world, the metafictional musing, and an inventive way with words. Miéville, as always, makes up his own words to fit his world, and reading his wonderful writing always makes me think about language and meaning. One particular quirk in Railsea is the use of the ampersand – & – instead of the word ‘and’. It is used throughout, even at the beginning of sentences. It’s a little jarring, even annoying at first, but there’s a little chapter that explains exactly why it’s used, and you can’t help but like it after that.

If you know anything about my tastes, my enthusiasm will come as no surprise. Miéville is my hero and I will read anything he writes. I will admit that he’s not for everybody, but if I can take a stab at being objective, I’d say that Railsea is a more accessible, utterly gorgeous, exciting book and you should read it.

Buy a copy of Railsea at The Book Depository

May Round-Up

Considering the fact that I spent most of month either away on holiday or preparing for it, I think I did quite well with my reading – 6 books and one short story.

Things started off badly with the dreadfully dull Strindberg’s Star by Jan Wallentin. Avoid.

Edie Investigates” was a charming eShort from Nick Harkaway. It introduces Edie Banister, a major character from Harkaway’s novel Angelmaker.  She’s a retired spy, now in her eighties, but totally defying all your expectations of little old ladies.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was perhaps by best read this month, and undoubtedly one of the best new books I’ve read this year. It’s a dark, demented psychological thriller about a marriage, a missing wife, and the husband who’s soon suspected of killing her. A very smart, surprising read, and utterly compelling.

The only thing that could rival Gone Girl as my best read this month is one of my favourite books – Perfume by Patrick Süskind. I re-read it to complete two different reading challenge tasks, and because I’ve been meaning to re-read it for a long time. It’s as brilliant as ever. I’ve seen the movie a few times since last I read the novel, so it was also interesting to note the differences. I also thought it would be a good holiday read for my Paris trip, since part of the novel is set in Paris (albeit a much older and stinkier version). I read the last few pages sitting on the Trocadero, waiting for the light show to start on the Eiffel Tower.

I finished Amped by Daniel H. Wilson last night. I jumped at the chance to review it after hearing all the hype about Robocalypse, Wilson’s first novel. Unfortunately, there’s nothing new or particularly exciting about Amped,  where American society turns against people who have ‘amplified’ abilities thanks to cybernetic implants. Conservatives fear and hate the amps and deem them non-human, leading to terrible oppression and civil conflict. It’s a familiar story, and Wilson does nothing innovative, so it’s average at best. Review to follow.

There are two other books I read this month. The first is Design as Art by Bruno Munari. I bought this and another book on art at the famous Shakespeare and Company in Paris (more on that in another post). This came after a visit to Centre Pompidou, a stunning modern art gallery that left me both awed and confused, hence the books on art. Design on Art has a series of easy-to-read essays that provided a few basic insights into modern art, which I really appreciated. On the downside, some of the essays are little more than lists of stuff rounded off with a minor point that Munari wanted to make about design. All in all, it balanced out to an average read.

I’ve had an eBook edition of The Beggars’ Signwriters by Louis Greenberg for a few months, but when I got the wonderful opportunity of meeting him for dinner in Paris, I wanted to read his book asap! (By the way – dinner with an author in Paris, how awesome is that! And Louis is a very nice guy.) It’s one of those books that’s almost impossible to properly sum up in a few words, and the blurb doesn’t do it justice. It follows the intertwined lives of South Africans living in Melville, Joburg, but also takes us to London, where two artists and a writer live and work for a few years. The novel explores personal relationships and modern art without binding itself to any definitive plot. I’m quite fond of novels that meander in this way, and although there were parts of The Beggars’ Signwriters that I didn’t like as much as others, I found the book as a whole to be a soothing, reflective read. I wanted to talk to Louis a bit more about the book than I did, but in person I’m dreadfully shy about that sort of thing, and I’m not sure if authors are always keen on those conversations… Anyway, no review for now because it was one of my leisure reads and I didn’t take notes, but maybe another time.

I couldn’t sleep last night, so after finishing Amped I jumped right in to what will be my first read for June – Kingdom of Strangers by Zoë Ferraris. It’s a murder-mystery set in Saudi Arabia, where the extreme social restrictions inhibit the lives of the characters – especially women – and the investigation itself, when notions of honour and propriety come before police procedure. It’s very good so far. I’ve got other good things lined up for June, but more on that later.

What did you read this past month? Anything you’d recommend?

Lily Herne’s Mall Rats are going to the UK!

The original Deadlands cover

I heard some great news via the Twitterverse last night – the Mall Rats series by Lily Herne (the pseudonym for mother/daughter writing duo Sarah and Savannah Lotz) has been picked up by Corsair Books and will be published in the UK in 2013. Corsair editor Sarah Castleton bought UK and Commonwealth rights to Deadlands and Death of a Saint, both of which were initially published in South Africa by Penguin and Puffin. The news was announced on The Bookseller and The World SF Blog.

Mall Rats is a post-apocalyptic YA zombie series set a decade after the infection hit South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. It follows a group of kick-ass teen rebels who fight against both the zombies and the corrupt government that worships the undead in a twisted theology of resurrection. Deadlands is set in Cape Town, while Death of a Saint explores the rest of SA. The final book will be The Army of the Left. If you’re interested, I posted my review of Death of a Saint yesterday, and you can check out both my review of Deadlands (I didn’t love the first book, but don’t let that put you off) and the joint review I did with Lu.

Deadlands and Death of a Saint, rejacketed by Puffin Books

I’m really happy for Sarah and Savannah, and it’s always exciting to hear about local genre fiction getting an international audience. I’m curious as to how the UK’s YA readers will react to the series. A glossary of SA slang will probably be in order, but I think readers will find the SA setting a fun and interesting break from the norm. Plus there’s loads of action and some great characters. Oh, and zombies. Lots of zombies.

Review of Death of a Saint by Lily Herne

Title: Death of a Saint
Author: Lily Herne (Sarah and Savannah Lotz)
Series: Mall Rats #2
Published: 1 April 2012
Publisher: Puffin Books, a division of Penguin
Genre: YA, fantasy, action adventure
Source: review copy from the publisher
Rating: 8/10

It’s been a few weeks since the final events of Deadlands. Lele, Saint, Ash and Ginger are camping out the wilderness that is Cape Town because it’s too much of a risk to return to either the mall or their hideout outside the enclave. When they save a family from the zombies however, they have no choice but to take them to the enclave, so they decide to use the opportunity to buy supplies. It’s a big mistake. Corruption has festered, security has become more brutal, and the Resurrectionst government is about to distribute Wanted posters with the names and descriptions of the four Mall Rats. Their days of raiding the mall and selling the products in the enclave are definitely over.

It’s clear to Ash that they need to get the hell out of Cape Town. It’s a difficult decision to make, but they’ll be able to get away from the institution that wants them dead and perhaps find other survivors to help them fight the Resurrectionists. They might even find some answers to the many secrets surrounding the Guardians.

So begins their road trip across a decimated South Africa. They find new companions and new reasons to be hopeful about the future, but mostly it’s a hard journey, and not just because of what the Rotters have done to the country. Some of the Rats are keeping secrets that could destroy their friendships. What they find tests their characters and their relationships, and puts their lives at risk. As it turns out, there are far stranger and more dangerous things than Rotters or even Guardians out there, and the Mall Rats will be sniffing them out.

Now, I didn’t exactly love Deadlands, but Death of a Saint is a book of another calibre. Everything that bugged me about its predecessor is no longer an issue. Firstly, it has a different style. Lele no longer addresses an audience, which she did for no apparent reason in book 1 (she didn’t seem to be recording her experiences, so who was she talking to?). There are no more super-short chapters ending in one-liner cliffhangers. The narrative of Death of a Saint is smoother, more focused and the writing is more refined. Chapters narrated by Lele are now alternated with chapters narrated by Saint, giving us two perspectives on the story. This new tactic can actually be a little confusing as there often isn’t much difference between the two (both characters speak the same way and are mostly in the same situations), but for the most part it wasn’t much of a problem.

I also think that the characters are better written, and the and their interactions are more interesting. The Mall Rats learn new things about each other, much of it unsettling. At the end of Deadlands, Lele learned why the Rotters don’t attack the Mall Rats, but she finds the secret so shameful, she can’t bring herself to share it with the others, even though she knows she should.

Ash and Lele were clearly attracted to each other in book 1 (forming a clichéd loved triangle with Thabo), but now the possibility of a relationship seems to be dying out. Ash seems to be taking Hester’s death harder than the rest of them, and he’s always moody. He might have been the sexy brooding rebel before, but now his attitude gets everyone down and is killing his relationship with Lele. As Saint puts it, “The angst act is getting old” (50). Lele even starts to wonder if Ash’s good looks are the only reason she still likes him, since he’s been such an unapproachable asshole lately. Then Ash’s mood changes when they meet a stunningly sexy girl who’s also immune to Rotter attacks. She’s perky, brave and endlessly nice so everyone instantly likes her (me included). Lele is instantly jealous, not only of the newcomer’s gorgeous curves (compared to Lele’s skinny frame) but of how much time Ash spends with her, talking and laughing. It’s sheer torment.

This may sound mean, but I think it was good that the authors made Lele suffer like this. In book 1 I found her too temperamental and troublesome. Now she seems to have calmed down a bit, and the way Ash keeps hurting her made me more empathetic – it’s a situation we’ve all been in.

Ginger, on the other hand, is a character I always liked. Lele describes him as “the only person in the world who can put a positive spin on a zombie apocalypse” (113), and his ability to crack jokes and think of movie references even in the worst situations easily makes him the series’ most entertaining and likeable character. He occasionally shows a vulnerable side though – unlike the others, he hasn’t had a serious romantic interest, and he’s lonely. It’s quite heart-warming then, when he adopts a baby hyena and gives him the ridiculous name, ‘Bambi’. Despite the name, Bambi is really cute and I can see him growing up to be Ginger’s bad-ass companion. For the moment though, he mostly just has ‘accidents’ in Ginger’s hoodie and gives him my favourite line in the book:

“Don’t shoot! I have a hyena!” (150)

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s the characters that made this a great book. I really cared about all of them, and my feelings were like ropes wrapping around my limbs and pulling me into their world. To add to that, ‘the journey’ is my favourite type of YA plot. I like the way that strange new places and people constantly bring uncertainty, surprise, hope and danger to the story, even if that sometimes makes the book discomforting to read. I like the demands that journey put on the characters, testing their strengths, forcing them to face up to their weaknesses, or teaching them new skills. Then, when they find a sanctuary in the midst of all their hardships, you feel just as relieved and happy as they do. Journeys are a source of both delight and torment, sometimes at the same time, and Death of a Saint does this one perfectly.

I enjoyed the story so much that I didn’t mind that they didn’t really learn much about the Guardians or fight the Resurrectionists. This was one of my major problems with the first book because it seemed like the most important and interesting stuff was being ignored. It’s a different case in Death of a Saint. The Mall Rats face these issues at the beginning, but once they’re on the road it makes sense for them to deal with the many other problems that arise.

Zombies, oddly enough, aren’t really one of those problems. Most Rotters don’t attack the Mall Rats, so they seldom have to fight them. Instead, Lele and the others tend to show them compassion rather than hostility. When a Rotter wanders into their camp at the beginning, Ginger gently chases him away instead of chopping his head off. On the road, they find a zombie who’s been dangling from a bungee cord for the last decade, feel sorry for him, and cut him loose. It disturbs them when they see how humans have made some of the Rotters suffer, and there’s a growing question of whether the Rotters still have some humanity left.

Humans, on the other hand, are the ones who pose the greatest danger. As in most post-apocalyptic stories, the breakdown of civilisation has made many people savage and cruel. Or really, really weird. Everyone has to be ready for a fight, not just with the Rotters, but with people who’d rob you, rape you, or kill you. Some show kindness and generosity, but with scarce resources, no one is looking for extra mouths to feed.

There’s less action than in Deadlands, I think, but fans of the first book shouldn’t worry – there’s still plenty to get your blood pumping and anyway, I think this story is more exciting with its ever-present sense of danger and uncertainty. Plus the characters are more engaging and there are some new ones I think you’d like. The writing is better, the structure is better – honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel. My only disappointment is that they changed the cover from the cool creepy style of the Deadlands one, to this YA cliché. The title wouldn’t have been my first choice, but there are still plenty of surprises and a cliffhanger ending to whet your appetite for the final book – The Army of the Left. Kudos Lily Herne – you guys did an awesome job.

Buy a copy of Death of a Saint.