“An exciting and enthralling new world in horror fiction, from an author who only seems to be growing in confidence and talent with each installment.”
Back in 2019, when the real world was slightly less insane than it is now, Dave Jeffery introduced us to a different world, one ravaged by a mutated Meningitis strain. The majority of the survivors in A Quiet Apocalypse (Demain Publishing, 2019) were depicted as hearing-impaired, utilising devices known as “tell-pads” (effectively tablets hung around the neck that displays messages typed into a connected keyboard) for communication, and struggling to survive in a silent world. Thanks to the darker side of human nature, blame was leveled squarely at those already hearing impaired, now mistrusted and branded as “Harbingers”, carriers and spreaders of the disease which has afflicted most. Those lucky few who retained their hearing, like Chris in the original, became an invaluable commodity and, as in Chris’s case, were captured and enslaved.
In the follow-up, the main point of view switches from the hearing Chris to a newly-deaf member of Cathedral, a fortified community built within the city limits of Birmingham in England’s West Midlands. Readers of book one only caught the briefest of glances of Cathedral through Chris’s eyes, seen as the largest community in the area at the time, but also populated by a resentful group of people angry at what they have lost and seeking some kind of retribution, some kind of payback. With book two’s narrative told from the point of view of a low-ranking member of the society, with secrets of her own, Jeffery manages to flip the script, show us a different side of the story. A story of individual struggle and compromise in order to improve the lives of the collective.
Protagonist Sarah was once a talented musician with a promising career ahead of her. She, perhaps more than most, is justifiably aggrieved by what has been stolen from her. But she is determined to make the most of a bad situation, as we see while we follow her through her daily chores and activities, also serving as an introduction to life within the walls of Cathedral. Everyone has a job, a role to fulfil to maintain order in the community, whether they farm, or defend the perimeter, or go on patrols with the other so-called Samaritans, hunting down Harbingers, or returning with the most valuable commodity; the hearing (or “Harks” as they are referred to in the story).
Comparisons can be made to certain aspects of human civilisations throughout history, with the barbaric and ruthless punishments meted out by every citizen, at the behest of founder and leader Prefect Stringer and their holy book, “The Testimony”. In times of crisis we always seek strong leadership, but we don’t always find ourselves with the best leader. Some leaders will even manipulate the crisis to profit from it to the detriment of the populace (we don’t have to look too far into the past or too far from the front pages of news sites to find a perfect example). While A Quiet Apocalypse was written before the Covid-19 pandemic, Jeffery perfectly detailed the prejudices faced by one group of people unfairly villainised for a tragedy not of their doing. With Cathedral, he could very well have been drawing on real life, the speed with which “we’re all in this together” turned into resentment and finger-pointing. He demonstrates an incredible talent for translating the horrors of reality and the primal nature of humans to the page without losing the entertainment value.
The catalyst of the story is the introduction of a new male inhabitant for Cathedral. There is an instant spark of attraction between Sarah and Paul when he first arrives, and she soon takes advantage of “Date Month” to get to know him, much to the light-hearted annoyance of her closest friend Alice. While Sarah introduces Paul to life within the walls of the city, they grow closer, until Paul reveals a tragedy from his past, one which only seems to strengthen their bond. But he doesn’t take to the barbarous way of life as easy as he takes to Sarah, and this soon leads to the main conflict. We wouldn’t want to give anything away, but we are only hinting at the tip of the iceberg, as there is so much more to this story than what little we have detailed here.
The horrors of what passes for justice in Cathedral, as well as their attempts to grow the population and what happens when it all goes wrong, really make for dark storytelling. We’d like to think that humanity wouldn’t sink to such terrible lows in a global emergency. But, even before Covid-19, there seemed to be overwhelming evidence to suggest just that. Still, as long as we don’t descend to the bloody scenes born in Jeffery’s imagination, perhaps there is hope for the human race yet. Sarah’s hopes for the future do offer a glimmer of hope in a mostly bleak landscape, but Jeffery continues the tone he set out in book one. Readers will be able to pick up Cathedral and be thoroughly entertained without first having read A Quiet Apocalypse, but they would be depriving themselves of an exciting and enthralling new world in horror fiction, from an author who only seems to be growing in confidence and talent with each installment. And, with the possibility of more stories from this post-World’s End setting, readers will want to get the complete story right from the start.
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 21 January 2021
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