I recently had the macabre pleasure of reading book 1 of 6, in the After It Happened series, entitled Survival. This series is set in a post apocalyptic England, shortly after an unspecified virus has wiped out the majority of civilisation. Following a band of people who are drawn together, trying to survive and adapt, facing the unknown in a terrifying new world.
Here’s a terribly vague summary, so as to avoid spoilers: A small band of survivors establish a settlement in a supermarket carpark, following a viral mass extinction event. As their numbers grow, the need for a permanent and sustainable ‘enclave’ becomes paramount. After a new location has been decided and attained, life begins to attain a pace that many survivors have yearned for. The anti-hero, Dan, and a few other key survivors, start to train and help the community to find their place in this new world.
A few twists and turns later, the first book ends with an enthralling, if suddenly occult(ish) and random, cliffhanger.
Survival was at times, and especially at the very start, an incredibly difficult read. This wasn’t from the calibre of story, or the complexity of the writing. A plodding and unconvincing introduction left me a little stunned, the further read promising to be something of a chore, if a hilarious one, from my B movie-loving perspective. So I continued reading, read it some more, then some more, and then it was done. Somewhere along the line, I had become hooked. Once established, the characters and their actions breathe such realism into this story that I couldn’t put it down. Dan, the anti-hero leader of the survivors, was very well portrayed, backed up with very technical and accurate details to reinforce his character’s skills and knowledge. For me this gave him a really believable edge, even amongst the classic clichés of such a character.
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As more characters are introduced, the plot gains pace. Through a series of (mostly) non-violent situations, the group adapts and shifts, replacing old world paradigms with the new in their joined quest of surviving and thriving in their new world. The development always seems natural, no one character being forced into a role just to keep the story plodding. I found the group, on the whole, incredibly relatable. A family of necessity rather than choice, doing what they can against the everyday adversity of surviving in a dead land with little to no skills of a practical nature. The camaraderie and dedication from the characters shows a capacity for coping in the face of the unimaginable, of doing what needs to be done, even at a personal cost, for the success of the group.
Yet this first instalment doesn’t throw its punches. It shines a hard light on the suspected evil lurking just under the surface of societies mask and how many people, if offered, would take and abuse those that were left standing in the rubble of society. Although nothing new – by a long shot – the writer’s approach was multi-faceted. There were the truly mad folk, people broken and/or freed with society’s last gasp. Psychos wielding machetes on motorbikes, to lazy dole bums turned hyper violent lunatics to indulge themselves however they like. Then there were the broken people who had lost everything and couldn’t adapt or even really accept their new world. The old soldier who’s lost everything, unable to abandon his post yet still willing to help, in his own way.
I’ve got to say this was a surprising pleasure to read. What can only be described as a weak start, the rambling story quickly turns into something very different and unexpected. The realism of the characters and how they interact with each other, the situations presented to them and the trauma of how much they’ve lost gives life to a very overplayed genre, and I for one was immensely pleased. The cliffhanger at the end of this novel left me wanting more, and between us, I’ve already finished the second book. This is absolutely worth a read: if you’re prepared to slog through the preamble, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what’s on offer. I’ll be reading the rest of these books with pleasure, as the author is clearly coming on leaps and bounds in bringing more to his fledgling tale.