Thursday 18 August 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The After War by Brandon Zenner

Cousins, Brian Rhodes and Steven Driscoll, emerge from their bunker two years after a war and plague have decimated the world. They are on a mission to keep a promise to their Uncle Al and Steven's sister, Bethany. At the same time, Simon Kalispell leaves his isolated mountain cabin on a quest to find his family. His only company is his dog, Winston. For both pairs, danger and death are everywhere. Travelling parallel journeys and experiencing extreme hardships, when their paths eventually cross, it fundamentally alters the tattered remains of the United States.

The After War is a post-apocalyptic story that takes the reader on a hazardous and harrowing journey across North America where civilization has collapsed and anarchy seems to reign. From the beginning, Zenner surprises the reader. Other survivors are deadly, not because of the disease that wiped out most of the population, but because of man's inhumanity to man when baser instincts take over.

The book is long and broken into two parts. The first half deals with the characters' journey. The second details the 'civilization' they discover when those who remain reach their destinations. It is this latter half that essentially shifts the story from post-apocalyptic to dystopian. This reviewer feels that the reader would be better served by breaking them into separate novels. But this is simply an opinion.

Regardless, the story is well written and engaging, even more so once Zenner hits his stride after the first few chapters. Although slow at first, Zenner does a good job of pulling the reader into the mind of his two main protagonists, Brian and Simon. When the story is told from their viewpoints, you feel their fear, anger, remorse, regret and panoply of other emotions. These characters are fighting their own personal "after" wars.

However, for this reader, it was a bit harder to engage with the other point of view characters. Part of this stems from the sheer number of them. It is also due to shifts backwards and forward in time. The reader really has to be on his/her toes to keep them all straight (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

At times some actions and occurrences seem implausible, unrealistic and incredible--thereby breaking the illusion. For example, one character relies heavily on gasoline salvaged from various locations and sources during the course of the drive to his destination. However, petrol doesn't keep long unless it is stored in ideal conditions (e.g. an air tight container) and even then, it would "spoil" after about 12-18 months. Yet, using 2-year-old gas is never a problem in the story.

Beyond this, some of the scenes and situations seem reminiscent of the films 28 Days Later (minus the zombies) and Road Warrior. This, however is somewhat typical for the genre and there are more than enough surprises and originality to make The After War a good weekend read.

Four out of Five stars


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