Book Review: Coffle by Gemma Files

“For anyone who enjoys tales of post-apocalyptic gloom!”

Coffle by Gemma Files - coverCoffle plunges the reader immediately and unceremoniously into a viscerally bleak world of slavery, pseudo-zombies and horror, in the truest sense. After an apocalyptic war, Ardenne—herself an escaped former slave—stands at the head of a coffle train of escapees, fleeing servitude across what appears to be one of the most inhospitable terrains ever conceived. Bombed with such force that the surface is a mish mash of shifting sand and blasted glass, the warring governments of the world then saw fit to drop a bio-chemical spore on ‘the Patch,’ reducing any survivors to zombie like, flesh eating hybrids of death and disease. The protagonist is experienced in leading chain gangs across the treacherous land to safety—albeit usually with a few fatalities along the way—and all appears to being going well until they encounter Bess, an unlikely survivor in this most unforgiving of terrains.

Two great strengths of Coffle are the break-neck pace with which the story unfolds and the matter-of-factness with which the characters, and thus the reader, face death and loss. Ardenne’s calm in ‘dealing with’ the first ex-slave to expire, to prevent them regenerating as a something ‘other’ the sense is unescapable both that she is all too familiar with this process, but that her humanity persists and mourns the loss, however expertly hidden from view. The pace of the narrative does not, though, detract from the reader’s appreciation of the wider setting. Through the thoughts and words of Ardenne, amongst others, the events which forged this desolate wasteland and the broken souls attempting to cross it are satisfyingly revealed. The cover art and interior illustrations by Stephen Wilson enhances the narrative to bring the story to life.

If there is one element detracting from the story at all, it is the employment of a thick dialect throughout the dialogue and internal monologues of the characters which, while in no way inappropriate for the context, does occasionally result in a partial lack of understanding and a need to go back and re-read, interrupting the flow of the story. This is a minor concern though, and the narrative effortlessly holds the attention as first the truth of Bess’ nature is laid bare, before the ultimate story reveal is set up. In spite of the short length of the text, Coffle offers a moving glimpse into a world that offers little or nothing in the way of hope and would be well placed to grace the library of anyone who enjoys tales of post-apocalyptic gloom.

KEV HARRISON

Publisher: Dim Shores
Paperback: (72pps)
Release Date: 14 December 2017

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