(2018) Craig DiLouie, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 391pp, ISBN 978-0-356-51097-2
I greatly liked this book and would recommend it to anyone: well, anyone who likes monsters, blood and gore, Southern Gothic, religion gone wrong, monsters and the end of the world as we know it. (Did I mention monsters?)
Set in an alternative 1980’s (Reagan is still president), the world had become infected in the late ‘60’s by teratogenesis, a disease that affected pregnant women and caused them to produce ‘monsters’. One in three children conceived had this disease, and they were placed in ‘Homes’. So the backstory has a number of elements coming together to give it a distinct Southern flavour – the thalidomide disaster, the AIDS epidemic, the way society treated people with mental health issues. And then on top of all that, there is the prejudice shown towards these children, almost adults, which again adds to the Southern mix – some of them are sent to pick cotton, there are lynching’s, and the KKK makes an appearance, with burning crosses on lawns.
You have to use the generic word ‘monster’ as no two seem to be similar. One of the main characters has his head upside down, another has paws instead of hands and feet and prefers to walk on all fours (unsurprisingly, his nickname is ‘Dog’). Most of the story involves the ‘children’ held in one of these Homes just outside Huntsville and their interaction with the town community, in particular some of the high school kids (one of whom holds a Dark Secret), the local sheriff, the minister of the Methodist church (whose son is going out with the girl with the Dark Secret), and the staff and Principal of the Home. There is a side story about one of the ‘monsters’ who has a special gift – he can complete peoples sentences for them, which develops into the ability to provide the other half of a telephone conversation (even if he doesn’t understand the words used) which an ‘agency’ finds really useful if they can only bug a room, rather than the phone – remember, this is the mid-80’s.
So you have mid-teens in the sultry heat of the South – yes, maybe some of them are a bit different, but … the hormones are flowing. It reminded me of that great 70’s film The Last Picture Show. And it’s not just the teens – some of the adults connected with the Home get some stupid ideas – there is an attempted rape of the girl with the Dark Secret, and let’s just say the perpetrator won’t need to visit a hat shop anytime soon.
Eventually, things come to a head (sorry), and the kids in the Home revolt, let by one whose nickname is Brains – some of the naming is not very subtle – and another known as Tiny – I’ll let you guess. The message spreads to other Homes (some of the kids have wings), and the impression is given that the South has risen. There is death and destruction, but there is a glimmer of hope towards the end, such that you anticipate the ‘And in the next volume …’ final page – which doesn’t appear. What does appear is a very useful interview with the author.
I’ve only been able to give a taster of this book which I thoroughly enjoyed.
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