Tagged: post-apocalyptic novel

The Dead Days Journal by Sandra R. Campbell

The Dead Days Journal by Sandra R. Campbell(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The daughter of a radical doomsday prepper, Leo Marrok spent her entire life preparing for the end. A skilled fighter and perfect marksman, Leo is her father’s second-in-command when Armageddon comes to pass. Together, they lead a group of survivors to a secure bunker deep in the Appalachian Mountains.

Vincent Marrok is willing to take extreme measures to repopulate their broken world. Leo’s refusal marks her as a traitor. With father and daughter at odds for the first time, their frail community is thrust into turmoil. Until the unthinkable happens, a blood-thirsty horde arrives. The impending attack will destroy all that they have worked for.

To protect her home and everything she believes in, Leo puts her faith in the arms of the enemy—a creature only rumored to exist—the one she calls Halloween. An alliance born out of necessity evolves into feelings Leo is ill-equipped to handle.

The Dead Days Journal is a post-apocalyptic story of love and family told through Leo Marrok’s first-hand account and the pages of Vincent’s personal journal, giving two very different perspectives on what it takes to survive.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

One of the things you have to know about The Dead Days Journal is that it’s not a zombie book.  More of a vampire book, to be honest but at the same time it’s nothing like classical YA vampires.  No, the majority of these vampires are hungry, rabid beings who have no higher thought processes at all.  There are of course some notable exceptions but these vampires are part of what makes Sandra R. Campbell’s book quite unique.

Imagine that the world has come to an end as you know it and you’re living in a small community in a cave, scavenging for survival, knowing that at any minute you could be vampire food.  What would you do?  Just survive or try to thrive and take the world back from the rabid vampires?  It’s an interesting question and many of the characters give it very different answers.  Vince Marrok, as you read in the blurb, is willing to take extreme measures to repopulate the world and poor Leo (his own daughter) isn’t even immune.  In fact, their disagreement about having children is part of the reason their safe little community comes to a dramatic end as everything they once knew changes.  I don’t want to give too much away because part of the fun is seeing how the two characters will react to each others’ actions but let’s just say that one or both of them will snap.  Once that veneer of safety is taken away, all bets are off in regards to predicting the behaviour of everyone in the community.

Leo is a very interesting character.  She’s matured in a world that doesn’t forgive weakness and she’s realized that humanity realistically has very little chance of coming back from something like this.  So, understandably, she doesn’t want a physical relationship with any of the men her age and she definitely doesn’t want children.  Why would you want children when you could be devoured by some insane creature at any second of any day?  Things get complicated when Leo decides that she does want a relationship because she does love one of her fellow group members, Ben.  Once her father sees her in a relationship, things get heated between the two and he does something that really breaks up their once trusting relationship.  And that’s when she meets Halloween, an intelligent vampire who tears down a lot of the preconceptions Leo had about his kind.  (Oh, and he’s definitely not a typical vampire either because Campbell made these ones unique.)  When the two start travel together and go through all kinds of hardships together, it’s not hard to see how things could get messy when feelings begin to be involved.

The plot is slow but interesting in the beginning and then it gets both fast-paced and interesting later on.  There’s a lot more interpersonal conflict than action per se but some of the conflicts between people get pretty heated.  It helps that there’s always this undercurrent of tension running throughout the narrative and even when things seem to settle down, they can change very quickly.  Just when Leo thinks she’s safe, she learns that she is far from it, for example.  Or just when she thinks that she’s averted a disaster and saved people, things turn out very differently.  The plot is very unpredictable; Sandra Campbell really does a great job at keeping readers on the edges of their seats.  I know I sure didn’t want to put this book down until I finished it!  And the cliffhanger at the end doesn’t seem forced so you’ll definitely want to read the next book as much as I do.

If you’re looking for some post-apocalyptic fiction but want something that diverges from the regular formula, The Dead Days Journal is a great place to start.  It’s got three dimensional characters, amazing world-building and a plot that just keeps surprising you.  I can’t recommend it enough.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

(Cover picture courtesy of Tertulia Moderna.)

An instant classic upon its original publication in 1949 and winner of the first International Fantasy Award, Earth Abides ranks with On the Beach and Riddley Walker as one of our most provocative and finely wrought post-apocalyptic works of literature.  Its impact is still fresh, its lessons timeless.

When a plague of unprecedented virulence sweeps the globe, the human race is all bu wiped out.  In the aftermath, as the great machine of civilization slowly, inexorably, breaks down, only a few shattered survivors remain to struggle against the slide into barbarism…or extinction.

This is the story of one such survivor, Isherwood “Ish” Williams, an intellectual loner who embraces the grim duty of bearing witness to what may be humanity’s final days.  But then he finds Em, a wise and courageous woman who coaxes his stunned heart back to life and teaches him to hope again.  Together, they will face unimaginable challenges as they sow the seeds of a new beginning.

Earth Abides is a novel I would describe as ‘haunting’ in that it forces you to think about the fact humanity may not always be around.  It also clings to your memory, even years after you first read it.  This passage about Captain Maclear’s rats haunts me even to this day.

Consider the case of Captain Maclear’s rat.  This interesting rodent inhabited Christmas Island, a small bit of tropical verdure some two hundred miles south of Java…

Yet such was the luxuriance of the tropical growth that the rats had not attained such numbers as to provide competition among members of the species.  The individual rats were extremely well-nourished, and even unduly fat.

In 1903 some new disease sprang up.  Because of their crowding and also probably because of the softened condition of the individuals, the rats proved universally susceptible, and soon were dying by thousands.  In spite of great numbers, in spite of an abundant supply of food, in spite of a very rapid breeding rate, the species is extinct.

Sound familiar to anyone?  Yeah, I thought so and it’s pretty scary because the scenario described by George R. Stewart really could happen one day.  And, like Maclear’s Rat, even our evolutionary advantages may not be enough to save us.

Enter Isherwood Williams, an intellectual who decides to stick around to see what happens to humanity when he discovers everyone he ever knew was dead.  Ish has a way of remaining emotionally distant that keeps him from going mad or making stupid sentimental decisions that would be detrimental to him.  Some people hate him for being so ruthless, but I found him to be empathetic (if not always sympathetic) and a very interesting character.

George R. Stewart has an amazing writing style and even though as Ish dies in the last part of the book things get a bit confusing, I had no trouble imagining the apocalyptic scenario he created.  The decay of buildings, the cropping up of bizarre religious beliefs, the lack of intellectual pursuits because survival is more important…all of this rings true and makes it a more enjoyable read.

I would highly recommend Earth Abides.  It’s one of the few classic novels that should be required reading in school.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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