The only thing Tayell can’t do is catchy titles. Oh, and cover design. Besides that, this is easily one of the better apocalypse I’ve read in years (mentally reviews prior reads…). Yep, that’s true. It’s too bad the cover design is so pulpy, because this is pretty much the opposite type of story: the diary of an intelligent but perhaps unimaginative person as civilization begins to implode.
Bartholomew–Bill, to his friends–is at home recovering from a broken leg as he watches the London evacuation. Jennifer, Bill’s closest friend, former business partner, and rising star in the London government has told him to stay put until she can send a car for him. She’s the one that broke the news of what appears to be an attack of the living dead when he awakened in the hospital, and told him to stay home instead of evacuate. What follows is Bill’s gradual realization that he will have to save himself.
“I made another assumption about our situation, one that’s only just starting to dawn on me. I assumed that one day, one day soon, that these things outside, undead, zombies, infected, whatever, that one day They would die, and that we could just take back our island. What if we have to fight for it?”
I think it’s closest analogy in stories would be I am Legend, Zone One, or perhaps Day of the Triffids, particularly in the sense that this is one person’s journey and evolution of understanding about himself and about the crisis. Bill has a likeable, vaguely self-depreciating voice that was engrossing. At first, he is an intelligent Everyman, albeit with insider information, with a trust in government and society that is admirable, even if a little naive. He is a modern white-collar professional and city dweller, suddenly made aware of the inadequacies of his skill sets. Some reviewers note that he felt ‘whiny,’ which is a description that surprised me. Occasionally little despairing, perhaps, and at war with himself over what to be done next. Like Hamlet, he is indecisive over his course of action, his broken leg preventing him from easy maneuverability.
“I purposefully only did a rough headcount. I knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to know exactly how bad my situation was.“
One aspect that sets Tayell apart as a writer is that this is free of the sexist trappings. One reviewer even notes that she thought the narrator was a woman for much of the story. Perhaps that will change as the apocalypse progresses and issues such as survival and continuation of society come into play, but I really enjoyed the gender-free approach. I also appreciated the seemingly slow dissolution of society, although if one keeps strict track of days, the breakdown still works out to be quite fast. There questions Bill faces are quite real, quite similar to the range of responses for a hurricane, for instance. Should I shelter in place? What will it take? Should I evacuate? How to plan beyond the next few days? I had noted in a recent review of the EMP series how fast society broke down into looting/rioting/burning, and appreciated that Tayell didn’t make that mistake.
“Out of all the job descriptions I’ve ever had, I think looter sounds the best. It’s more proactive than survivor.”
The writing is exceptional for what appears to be a first book. In fact, I’ll note that I judged this on a mass-published scale; there were no instance of the awkward phrasing or contrived dialogue that I associate with a beginning writer. There was a nice balance of humor, description and introspection in the narrative–this was definitely not a young-adult level read. Flashbacks were well integrated. If there were shortcomings, it is perhaps an ending that feels a bit rushed, and two over-contrived bits in terms of plot development. Bill has access to someone with a surprisingly wide information base, and that also feels a bit over-convenient, but I think that will play a more significant role in the following books. On the whole, however, this was an admirable apocalypse tale, and one deserving of far greater attention. On to the next.
Shoutout to John for his review on the fourth book, pointing the way towards this series.