Book Review – Fever by Deon Meyer.

Like most of us, this time last year I’d never heard of Coronavirus or Covid-19. Regardless, it was there and had been around for a while. However, even as news broke left, right and centre and day by day the situation worsened, most of would have never have imagined how bad things would get and how much our world would change. So imagine a situation where it seems like the very same virus wipes out 90% of the world’s population.

This is the premise of ‘Fever’ by Deon Meyer. Even as a lover of almost anything dystopian, the facts here would have seemed a little far-fetched without the reality of the present-day global pandemic. And while Coronavirus has had nowhere near such a devastating impact, the severity of the damage done to the world of ‘Fever’ made it all the more readable for me.

The novel is set in South Africa and while the rest of the world is rarely referenced, the reader is aware that the entire planet has changed almost beyond recognition. The South Africa inhabited by our protagonists, Willem and Nico Storm is merely a microcosm of what’s going on elsewhere. And there’s a lot going on. ‘The Fever’ has wiped out the majority of human life and those that are left are now battling for survival. Everything that they need to stay alive is either sparse in quantity or heavily in demand and the competition to stay alive is strong. This really is survival of the fittest.

But, in amongst the chaos, Willem Storm has a dream. Having lost everything to the fever, he now wants to create a community that will welcome anyone and be fair to everyone. Willem Storm wants to restore order while at the same time offering hope, even if it is on a relatively small scale.

In my opinion this is dystopian fiction at its best and at its most relevant. The book is around 5 years old so while there was an awareness of coronavirus, Meyer couldn’t have predicted just how quickly it would take hold and just how relevant his novel would eventually be. I must admit though, that for the first few sittings of reading the novel I was fascinated by the coincidence, even though I knew that coronavirus had been a ‘thing’ for a while. So reading the novel when I did, in the midst of our latest lockdown, gave it a definite edge. As the infection rate and the death toll spiked again and again, I couldn’t help but think, ‘what if?’

The novel is written from the point of view of the 13-year-old Nico Storm, looking back on the events of his childhood and the early post-Fever years. South Africa is in a state of emergency and no one is safe as rival gangs roam the country, robbing, killing and trading as they try to stay alive. Think ‘The Road’ but with a better climate. The wildlife poses a problem too and packs of wild dogs are a constant threat. So we have a landscape and society that is very much a cross between something out of Mad Max and The Walking Dead, but with no zombies and more Negans and Whisperers. And in amongst it all, his father Willem, sees a dream of a new society.

The dream becomes reality, but despite the spirit of evolution and the fading of the fever, this was never going to be simple and there’s little chance of a happy ending. The population of Amanzi – Willem’s vision for the future – grows, but so do the problems. And as with any good dystopia – and there’s a paradox if ever there was one – just when you think you’ve overcome the problem, another one appears. And another, and another. ‘Fever’ is very much edge of the seat stuff.

‘Fever’ is a novel of hope. Everything is a struggle, but with that, even the smallest of successes is a victory for the good guys. Within its 500+ pages there are plenty of moments where the reader has to suspend their disbelief, but this isn’t War and Peace; this is the world minus 90% of its population and a book full of drama and edge of the seat thrills. I must admit I didn’t enormously enjoy the twist and ‘big reveal’ of the ending, but it certainly didn’t spoil the read for me either.

If you’re a fan of anything dystopian then you’ll enjoy ‘Fever’. Meyer creates a surprisingly believable world while managing to fill a long story with enough problems to keep you well and truly interested and perched on the edge of your seat. It’s possible that there are too many characters to really focus on, but then again, with the protagonists creating a new world and aiming to accept all who arrive at their gates, we were never going to be able to just stick to the two points of view. And frankly, if you don’t get confused while the world is falling apart around your ears, then is it even falling apart at all?

‘Fever’ plunges us right into the situation that we’ve been living through for the last year…but replaces government sanctioned exercise, closure of shops, face masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing with the fact that it all got a lot worse and nearly everyone died. What more could you want to get your teeth into?

I’d give ‘Fever’ by Deon Meyer

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review – The Cabin at The End of The World by Paul Tremblay

We’ve surely all imagined the same kind of relaxing, fantasy weekend. While there might be some subtle differences to our individual plans, I’m sure you’d all agree that if that weekend included time spent in a remote cabin set by the side of a beautiful lake in the company of your nearest and dearest, that’d probably just about hit the spot, right?

Well, let me be the first to warn you, when you get this relaxing break, if I guy called Leonard turns up looking all friendly make your excuses, abandon your utopian weekend and run as fast as you can!

Wen is 7 years old and after a tough start in life, seems to have very much found her feet. Wen was adopted as a baby by her now dads, Eric and Andrew and moved halfway across the world from China to a new life full of love in Boston. There have been bumps in the road along the way, but now, as a big girl she’s settled in school, has friends, is making decisions of her own and enjoying quite the fulsome life. These trips to the countryside are common place nowadays and it’s good for her, daddy Eric and daddy Andrew to get away from the stress of city life and spend some quality time exploring the wilds of New Hampshire together. And then, while she’s having a ton of fun catching and naming grasshoppers in the garden in front of the cabin, that guy called Leonard shows up.

Leonard is a giant (not literally), but although she’s a bit unsure, Wen isn’t scared. Despite his size, Leonard is friendly and even helps her find more grasshoppers. He helps her name them too. Stranger danger briefly crosses her mind but before she knows it she’s chatting away to him and discussing school, her hatred of broccoli and her upcoming two birthday parties, like they’ve been friends for years. In fact, after a short while, she decides that she and Leonard now actually are friends. And that’s when, Leonard’s other friends turn up. Three of them, armed with what can only be described as terrifying home made weapons.

From here on in ‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ picks up the pace and never really slows down again. Brilliantly written, this thriller has more than enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end. Dystopia, horror, fear, tension and violence; it’s all here and it’s packed into every page.

However, ‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ is much much more than just a bloodfest. In fact, in terms of blood there’s relatively little to go around. The horror and the thrills here are largely psychological and despite the obvious presence of the bad guys, it’s difficult to really dislike any of the characters. While Leonard and his friends are certainly threatening you’ll find yourself listening to their reasons for being there and as certain things happen, maybe even beginning to believe their schtick.

Brilliantly though, every time you lower your guard, Tremblay add a new twist and you’re forced, breathless, to reconsider your view of what’s unfolding in front of you. When you think a safe status quo has been settled upon, Tremblay reminds you that it’s anything but. And when you think that you can definitely see what’s coming next, he throws some metaphorical mud in your eye so that you can’t see for a while longer and by the time you’ve cleared it away, things have changed.

It’s hard to decide whether Leonard and his friends are part of a very sophisticated cult or whether they themselves have actually been duped. Each one of the four carry a subtle menace, while maintaining an air of friendliness, making them both the subject of our suspicion and loathing as well as a group of people that we could see ourselves easily getting along with. It’s a sign that ‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ is a real winner when not only does the reader fall for the charms of the obviously wonderful Wen but they also see possible friends in three of the four bad guys.

‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ is a brilliant read. A real page turner where just when you think you’ve got a handle on what’s going on, the rug is pulled from under you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a thriller or horror fan at all; this is just a fantastic book. You’re engaged from the very start and you have great characters, a hint of dystopia, elements of horror and the sheer thrill of what will happen next to keep you going. And at the heart of it all there’s just a really good story. I loved reading ‘The Cabin at The End of The Word’ and would give it…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review – ‘Vox’ by Christina Dalcher.

There are lots of things in life that we shouldn’t love anywhere near as much as we do. From trashy reality TV to too many takeaways, we know that they’re doing us no good, but still we dive in on an all too regular basis. Me? I’m no different, although I steer fairly clear of reality TV and takeaways. You can keep your Love Island and your MacDonald’s your curries and your egg fried rice. Give me a good dose of dystopia any time! Thrill me with a society that’s falling apart and appall me with the crimes of those in power and I’m as happy as a toddler in a sandpit. And thus, I couldn’t wait to read ‘Vox’, the gripping dystopian thriller by Christina Dalcher.

Vox tells the tale of Jean McClellan, once a well respected scientist, but now reduced to the role of frustrated housewife and mother; and a largely silent one at that. This is because Jean lives in Dalcher’s fictional version of a modern day America where, thanks to the madness of their fudamentalist Christian leadership, womens’ words are rationed. In this extreme patriachal society, every member of the female population is fitted with a band around their wrist that ensures terrible pain via an electric shock should they speak more then their allocated 100 words in twenty four hours.

Female liberties have been taken away with millions losing jobs and all of their money, while young girls have their right to an education denied. Rather than being taught to read and write, they are now restricted learning whatever skills the patriachy feels will be of use in later life.

And while it seems that many women, including the first lady, have accepted their fate, Jean refuses to do so. She is determined to break free and is encouraged by some of the signs she spots in everyday life. So when a twist of fate sees her thrust back into the scientific limelight, she sees her chance. But is it too good to be true?

Jean embarks on her government mission with an ulterior motive, discovering old friends, allies, unexpected opportunities and even the hint of an underground rebellion along the way. But is everything exactly what it seems? Or will Jean’s dreams of freedom be crushed by an all too powerful and all too watchful state?

‘Vox’ presents the reader with a terrifying yet thought provoking view of the future and what at first glance seems extreme, has genuine parallels in today’s world. You don’t have to look too far to find that people are having their rights infringed all over the planet – dig a little deeper and it’s possible to uncover genuine horror stories that one would have imagined belonged firmly in a work of fiction. And this is the beauty of Vox in a way. What seems absurd is actually, frighteningly quite possible somewhere. So while it seems ridiculous that somewhere in the world – particularly in the developed world – womens’ words may be subject to a cap, you just never know.

On reading ‘Vox’ some might say that it’s a world we’ve seen or read of before. Certainly if you were gripped by the dangerous and rebellious adventures of June in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, then ‘Vox’ occupies a similar space. There are also shades of ‘1984’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ here too. But the twists and turns of ‘Vox’ will have you on the edge of whatever it is that you perch yourself on to read. On several occasions it seems that Jean will fail and on others you’ll be suspicious of those that she is around, even her husband. Her eldest son also provides an interesting twist when it appears that he has become seduced by the message of the country’s ruling forces. This constant feeling of being on edge makes ‘Vox’ a real page turner.

Dalcher’s characters are well written too. Jean is someone who we sympathise with and we want to succeed, not only because we believe in her cause, but essentially because we like her, while allies such as Lin and the brooding Lorenzo and Jean’s arch enemy Morgan Lebron hold our interest too. Morgan in particular is the arch villain; brilliantly written so that the reader can’t fail to hate everything about him. We’ve all met a Morgan – smug, arrogant, the kind who takes credit where it really isn’t due and who’s never slow to let people know how important he is; even when he’s not that important. So for the whole time that you’re rooting for Jean, you’ll finding yourself wishing terrible injury and worse upon Morgan.

I absolutely loved ‘Vox’ and was utterly gripped by it from beginning to end. The novel presents us with a horrifying dystopia, but one that seems all too possible in the modern world. And for that reason we’re along for the ride with Jean as she battles to outwit the horrifying restrictions that have been placed upon not only her, but every woman in America. It’s a cause we believe in and care about and Jean is the perfect protagonist, the perfect hero – with a whiff of anti-hero thrown in, just or good measure – the perfect woman for the job.

Without hesitation, I’d give ‘Vox’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An unlike our female protagonist, I’d shout it from he rooftops as many times as I liked!

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