“Jeffery hasn’t reinvented the apocalyptic sub-genre … he has given us something fresh, exciting, and intriguing, that not only entertains from the first page to the last, but also forces us to open our hearts and minds to the plight of a minority.”
British horror author Dave Jeffery has written about zombies, werewolves, cryptids, and a band of plucky young teenage heroes. One look at his Amazon author page and you realise such stories must take a great deal of imagination. But he has also drawn on personal and professional experience to add more realistic elements to his work, making them more relatable and opening our eyes to issues often swept under the rug. The first major example of this was Finding Jericho (Hidden Thoughts Press, 2012), which focused on mental health. His latest book, however, brings an unfairly under-represented portion of the population to the forefront, highlighting the challenges they face daily.
The book opens with a succinct description of a world ravaged by a terrible disease, the narrator, Chris, relaying how it has both destroyed the world at large, and his own personal world as well. Jeffery delivers an apocalyptic story, but puts his own spin on the well-trodden sub-genre. As is mentioned in the synopsis, the disease responsible is a mutant strain of bacterial meningitis, more commonly referred to as MNG-U, which burned through the global population. Those who contract the disease either die an excruciating and bloody death, or lose their hearing. It makes for a very unique twist on the typical apocalypse story, bringing deaf characters to the forefront, as well as exploring the prejudices and preconceptions surrounding the hearing-impaired.
Chris is one of the lucky few who is immune to MNG-U, but we quickly learn that, as with any apocalypse, nobody escapes unscathed. Not only has he suffered great tragedy and personal loss but, as someone who doesn’t have to rely upon a “Tell-Pad” (a digital display worn on the chest that displays text typed into a small, personal keyboard) to communicate, he is swiftly enslaved by a man named Crowley who takes extreme measures to make sure Chris cannot escape. It would be naïve of us to suggest that such a thing could never happen in our wonderful world. Man’s inhumanity to man is ever-present and all too visible in the daily news. Readers should set any expectations for a hopeful story to a minimum; the bleak tone continues throughout.
This is not intended as a negative criticism; some of the best stories are bleak, especially those regarding the apocalypse. McCarthy’s The Road and Matheson’s I Am Legend instantly come to mind when reading this story. While it isn’t quite as brutal as the former, it doesn’t shy away from the wickedness that resides in the human heart, especially in times of trouble. And, much like the latter, there is an element of legend and myth to Chris as a hearing survivor. He may not be the last human in a world of vampiric monsters, but he is one of a very small minority who can make the lives of those affected by MNG-U easier. And for this he is almost revered, just as Robert Neville was in the finale of Matheson’s masterpiece.
Those stricken by the disease have set up a new city called Cathedral, built where Birmingham once stood, and send out search parties known as Samaritans to round up hearing survivors to serve as slaves. It paints a damning picture of humanity, and the horrific depths to which we would fall if we allowed fear to consume us and mob mentality to rule. Unfortunately, it isn’t so difficult to imagine the real world slipping into this barbaric way of thinking given the crises we face every day and the inability and often, unwillingness, of those in power to do anything about it. To the citizens of Cathedral, the true villains are those who were already deaf prior to the outbreak. These people are referred to as “Harbingers” and are dealt with in the most brutal way. They serve as more than a simple plot device; Jeffery takes full advantage of the opportunity to educate the reader by drawing comparisons to prejudices faced by the hearing-impaired in everyday life. It is clearly a subject about which he feels very passionate, but he never gets preachy. On the contrary, it is enlightening and serves as an effective break from the action scenes.
The action really ramps up when Chris first discovers a two-way radio in a nearby field and then, after hearing word of a safe haven known as The Refuge, meets another survivor called Paul. Together they decide to make a break for The Refuge, braving the big, bad world and the roving gangs of Samaritans and whatever unknown dangers lie in wait. Although Chris never fully recovers from his own personal tragedy—how could he?—we do experience his personal growth as he encounters more frightening and frightened characters on the road. Will they manage to avoid the terrible Samaritans and whatever awaits them in Cathedral? Will they overcome all odds and make it all the way to The Refuge?
Naturally, for a novella, the action is relentless. No sooner has Chris escaped one precarious situation, than he finds himself in even more danger. The subtraction of a sense that most of us take for granted makes for more than a plotline, giving us something to consider with both mind and heart, as it not only explores the physical ramifications, but the emotional and socio-political as well. The book is an exploration of fear and grief, and what it can do to the human spirit, for better or worse. In Chris we have a compassionate and relatable narrator and, in the Samaritans, we have an all-too-familiar and, therefore chilling, threat. Jeffery hasn’t reinvented the apocalyptic sub-genre. Rather, he has given us something fresh, exciting, and intriguing, that not only entertains from the first page to the last, but also forces us to open our hearts and minds to the plight of a minority. It is truly a stroke of genius, and proof that Jeffery continues to innovate with each new release.
Publisher: Demain Publishing
eBook: 163 (pps)
Release Date: 23 September 2019
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