The post-apocalyptic novel has always been a firm staple of the genre, and with the way things are going in the world today, it seems as though they may soon be transitioning from fiction to "How To" status.
However, as a genre, it is a hard one to get right, let alone rise above swathes of Mad Maxes, and Randal Flagg clones all jostling to get centre stage. It is a genre that probably suffers more from the long shadows of its past than any other. Yes the vampire genre has the likes of Dracula and Vampire Lestat, and zombie genre has The Rising and Autumn looking over it, but the post-apocalyptic horror genre always seems to be living in the stark stare of The Stand and Swan Song.
It is a hard place to be, but when a debut novel makes you sit up and take notice, and shed your preconceptions of the genre, that's when you know you are on to a good thing.
Defender by G.X Todd is one such book....
Yes the basic premise of the book is a well-worn one, life on earth in is ruins, pockets of survivors, scattered around the world live by their own rules, law and order has broken down, death is moments away, and despair bears down on everyone's soul. And a group of brave survivors are making a cross-country journey through the wasteland in a bid to bring sanity if not peace to a ravaged land.
So far, so been there done that, but don't let that put you off. You may think you have read this story a million times before, G.X. Todd has a strong enough voice, and some clever ideas and twists on the tropes of the genre that Defender, is a novel that manages the almost impossible task of escaping from the shadows of giants who came before it.
Set seven years after the population started to hear voices that encouraged them to either kill themselves or kill others, the America that we know and love is long gone. Feral gangs of survivors have made the world their own, if you are not one of theirs, you are prey. Fearful of strangers who might have the Voice and desperate for food and water, they will take what they want without compassion.
Step forward Lacey and her small band of travellers. Lacey is a spunky teenage girl, whose innocence and positive attitude shines like a beacon in the darkness. Such is her optimism and outlook on the situation that she feels like a grungier version of Laura Ingalls, but this is no Little House House on The Prairie.
Acting as her guardian and travelling partner is Pilgrim, who can be best described as Snake Plisken before he became totally cynical and world-weary.
The dynamics and interplay between these two characters are the heart and soul of the book. Polar opposites, yet intertwined through a sense of mutual respect and a need for companionship, their journey through the story is the real strength of this book. Todd has created a genuine warmth with these two that counteracts and softens the stark and often brutal narrative.
Defender, is a tough read, not because it is poorly written, but due the fact that this is an almost unrelenting look at the animalistic nature of survival, while most of the atrocities happen "off page" so to speak, Todd's descriptive powers of and the economical way in which she presents the horrors forces the reader to fill in the blanks.
If you are looking for answers and reasons as to what the voices are and why they are here, you will be slightly disappointed, in the grand traditions of the Saturday serial Todd keeps the majority of the facts close to her chest. If you want the answers, you will just have to wait for the three planned sequels, which is no bad thing as Defender is a gripping and momentous addition to the genre.
Todd uses the narrative of Defender to explore in a thoughtful and credible manner some deep themes. Such as the consequences of violence, loneliness and psychology of survival. These themes are handled in such a way that they are allowed to get their message across without ever getting in the way of the story, elevating Defender above your usual end of the world story.
Defender is a powerful novel that breathes new life into a well-written genre, a taught self-contained story that is just crying out for a sequel, which is good news as the author is already working on three of them.
'So accomplished that it's difficult to believe it's a first novel, Defender is already worthy to take its place alongside The Stand in the canon. An absolute gem of a book' John Connolly
'On the cusp of sleep, have we not all heard a voice call out our name?'
In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.
The moment locks them together.
Here and now it's dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.
These voices have purpose.
And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn't know it yet.
Defender pulls you on a wild ride to a place where the voices in your head will save or slaughter you.