I occasionally read dystopian genre. The predictable generic plot with its negativity, impending unavoidable doom, and my sadness at the death of well-developed characters do not help me manage routine activities for the rest of my day. I have to consciously not read this kind of stuff in early morning hours. It is a good weekend read and, if a hero wins, I can be happy. To do so, I generally have to read to the end and that requires a binge read to the conclusion. No stops in the middle of tragic parts are allowed. Today’s read is:
Hell’s Children by John L. Monk
“Fourteen-year-old Jack Ferris shoveled another scoop of dirt onto his mom’s grave.” That is the novel’s first sentence. In the second sentence we find out his dad died a couple of weeks prior. See what I mean about the negativity? What follows for the next few pages are the “it could have been worse” factors. Jack was lucky that his parents did not allow him TV. They did not allow him the comforts of a technology rich environment. They did not give him wisdom in the form of sage instruction, instead they used a Socratic method of home-schooling. He did not receive toys for birthday presents; he received tools. When your idea of a great present is a whetstone with which you can form a start-up company sharpening knives for neighbors, we might conclude that childhood was a serious business.
The novel’s premise is a standard one. There was a serious illness that killed adults and everyone older than fifteen. Some children got sick, but most recovered. The child population had to find a way to survive. Humans, being the social animals they are, coalesced into gangs. Every gang has at least one leader. Some leaders are bullies and self-centered, like Blaze, the primary antagonist for much of the novel and leader of a gang known as the Pyros. Can you guess who likes to play with matches? Of course you can (but it is not Blaze). Other than the Pyros, there is another large gang, also led by a bully. So far, it looks like the only help for the world is Jack’s gang. It is a good thing that Jack is morally and ethically almost pure.
The story revolves around the struggle for survival and the search for answers to important questions. Who produces the food in a world that does not have juvenile farmers? For a while, the teens can survive by looting convenience stores, but the finite nature of that solution is obvious. Back to the whetstone, it is good that Jack’s parents taught him how to hunt. And build a smoking hut to cure the meat from the animals killed. And to skin animals in such a way that parts selected for eating are not spoiled by less healthy parts.
The entire remaining population doesn’t even have learners permits for driving. That is a mixed blessing because no one is producing fuel. Since this setting is in the USA with four seasons, the problem of heat during the winter season is important. The forest supplied wood; that is a problem solved. Because books on plant identification and survivalist literature were the core of Jack’s reading prior to the disaster, his gang was also able to exploit the forest for plants and vegetables. There were a few electrical generators, but back to that problem of fuel again.
The reader will encounter a great number of characters. Jack’s gang alone had, at one point, twenty-seven members. We are introduced to names of most of them. I had to highlight frequently and stop sometimes to refresh my memory as to which characters possessed, or lacked, skill sets that contributed to or detracted from the ability to survive. Main characters are well developed and contain some surprises.
I found the book entertaining and well developed enough to follow a link to Monk’s website. Other novels by him are available through Kindle Unlimited so in the near future I will post more reviews of his work.