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But, in a sense, they all already had a fever just as murderous and treacherous: emigration fever. It was burning them up and driving them on.

Ok folks, here is a quick update on the status of your friendly neighbourhood blogger. This afternoon Stephanie and I moved into our new home – for four weeks that is. We’re house-sitting for a lovely couple and keeping two very affectionate cats company.

The most exciting news (for me) is this house has an incredible collection of books! I am very happy. So I will expect I will be sourcing many of my reviews from the books here for the next few weeks.

Moving along, this book is yet another addition to the American dystopia canon. This time the culprit for the devastation of the world is a highly contagious disease. The title is derived from the practice to isolate infected members of communities in a lonely house outside the inhabited area.

Franklin Lopez, left to his own devices by his hardier brother Jackson, finds just such a structure and takes shelter during a violent storm. Together the two brothers, like many others become emigrants in the wake of the disaster in America, are travelling eastward to a mythical port that will lead to safer climes. Jackson is tempted to leave his younger brother behind though. Already their family was broken up when the two boys left their mother behind at their home when they struck out. One more separation would not cost him much.

Franklin is ignorant of his brother’s desire to abandon him. He has discovered within the pesthouse a young, beautiful woman, whose shaved head and deliriousness testifies to her infection with the flux. At first compelled to flee from the obvious signs of infection, Franklin finds himself returning to the young woman Margaret, his attraction to her outweighing the danger she poses. She tells him she comes from the settlement of Ferrytown, where he had his brother had been travelling to, as many others had before them, to cross the treacherous river to the next stretch of road leading to the coast. The inhabitants of the town charge those travelling eastwards almost everything they own for the right to cross. When the flux passes thanks to Franklin’s ministrations, the two travel down to the settlement, only to discover every soul dead.

Everyone they know is gone. Franklin and Margaret decide to make the rest of the trek to the East alone, braving the highways haunted by people rustlers and the prospect of further outbreaks of disease.

The comparison will be made, so obviously I have to get it out of the way first. This is not The Road. For one Jim Crace’s writing is far more lyrical than McCarthy’s spare prose. Furthermore there is a far greater leeway for hope, with Franklin and Margaret’s growing love granting them a brighter future than an aging father and his young son.

Surprisingly Crace is not writing about the apocalypse. He is inverting the format of American manifest destiny, with the huddled masses that have survived the plague travelling east instead of west, seeking safety overseas as America itself and all it represents has been lost to them. His conclusion, given the misery of this book’s setting, is an optimistic one, reflecting Franklin’s youthful enthusiasm for life.

Poetically written, without shying for the darkness at this novel’s heart, this is a wonderful book. A dystopia that does not give up on the future.

 

‘Not only have you quit the I.S., but you’re baiting them. You went shopping. You broke into their records vault to shred your file. Locking a runner unconscious in his own car?’ he said with a carefully cultivated laugh. ‘I like that. But even better is your quest to improve yourself. I applauded your drive to expand your horizons, learn new skills. The willingness to explore options most shun is a mind-set I strive to instill in my employees. Though reading that book on the bus shows a certain lack of…judgement.’ A sliver of dark humour showed behind his eyes. ‘Unless your interest in vampires has an earthier source, Ms. Morgan?’

Over a year ago a friend of mine back in Ireland recommended I check this book out. I have had my eye out for it, but for some reason could never find the first book in the series. My library did have copies of the later books, but once again, no first book. Last Thursday I finally cracked and bought myself a copy from Dymocks.

After all it is Halloween and I was hoping to have a variety of horror novels ready for the blog.

Rachel Morgan is a witchfinder who is pretty witchy herself. Preferring to practice white magic only, she has made a living working for the Inderland Runner Services, or the I.S. an organization with the oversight of society’s more supernatural citizens. Until she quit. Now her former employers want her dead, she’s on the trail of a conspiracy that might save her neck, but her vampire flatmate has her eyes on that too.

See in this world humanity focused its scientific advances on biology instead of the space race. A pharmaceutical Cold War resulted in a horrific pandemic that wiped out large numbers of the planet’s population, inadvertently revealing the presence of vampires, witches and the were-kind hidden within society. For when civilization was brought to the brink it was they, known collectively as Inderlanders, who protected it from complete collapse. An uneasy truce was declared between them and the humans they regard as their food (or in the case of black witches, their potion ingredients) with laws drawn up to police relations between the competing groups.

As a former employee of the I.S. Rachel is privy to a lot of sensitive information that she will not be able to live long knowing, unless she can cut herself a deal with the forces behind her own death warrant. Striking out on her own she finds surprising allies in the half vampire Ivy and the truculent pixie Jenks. With a little bit of luck and some inventive potions, maybe she will last until the end of the week.

I had a lot of fun with this book. First of all Harrison dispenses with the worldbuilding early on. Yes vampires, werewolves, pixies and fairies are all real. Humans have embraced undead culture and there are guidebooks on how to satisfy your vampire lover. Once that is established the plot kicks in with Rachel evading several assassination attempts while on the hunt for leads to expose a conspiracy involving the drug trade.

As this is the first book in a series we also get to know a carefully selected cast of characters. The uneasy relationship between Ivy and Rachel is played mostly for laughs, with the frazzled witch unknowingly dropping hints that she would like to be bitten, despite loudly insisting she does not. Harrison treats the subject of vampire sex with far better humour than Charlaine Harris’ explicit bedroom antics in the Sookie Stackhouse series.

Then there is an impromptu driving lesson courtesy of a pixie and a sequence involving animal shapeshifting that reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. In all this is great fun, with some gripping action and a nice line in heroic quipping. There is even an encounter with a demon that was sufficiently scary for the book to meet my Halloween chill factor quota.

Looks like I have another series for me to hunt down.

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