(2018) G. X. Todd, Headline, £16.99, hrdbk, 485pp, ISBN 978-1-472-23312-7
“The birds are flying. The birds are flocking. The birds sense the red skies are coming. One man is driven by an inner voice that isn't his - this 'Other' is chewing at his sanity like a jackal with a bone and has one purpose. To find the voice hiding in the girl. She has no one to defend her now. But in an inn by the sea, a boy with no tongue and no voice gathers his warriors. Albus must find the girl, Lacey . . . before the Other does. And finish the work his sister Ruby began.”
Hunted is the second novel in the 'Voices' series by G. X. Todd, following the first book Defender which ended with some shocking revelations and even more shocking milestones in the lives (and deaths) of the major characters. Given that this is a post-apocalyptic novel there have been many comparisons to Stephen King’s novel The Stand, but there are different ways the world can end in speculative fiction – nuclear weapons (as in Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, a novel often compared to The Stand for its epic, sweeping scale), pandemics, vampires, zombies, and more recently we’ve had giant spiders on the march, and even death by fungi in a couple of best sellers. Todd’s world end comes about because of the mysterious “voices” that people can hear in their heads. These voices drive them mad, or drive them to commit terrible acts of violence against other people, and if even if you haven’t succumbed to the voice inside your head, it’s better to keep quiet about that voice, because you are to be feared, and killed, before you can kill.
While neither Defender nor Hunted are The Stand, Todd employs a trick that King used in The Shining where he cuts away from a horrific scene, in a certain room, much to the frustration of his readers, but it was a brilliant literary trick. Here, Todd does it in a much larger scale as we do not encounter the major characters that we have lived with in Defender until we are well into the second novel. This gives us the chance to encounter some new characters and allows her to world-build around them, as we wait for Lacey and her friends to reappear. These new characters are a varied bunch, some physically different, such as the boy Albus, who cannot speak because he has no tongue, not does he have hands, but he can communicate with others and he has his followers who have to leave the secure home they have established beside the sea to seek out Lacey and her little band, but others seek her too, especially those led by the monstrous Posy, now called “Not-Posy” because while he looks the same, he is driven by the voice in his head, and Lacey and her friends are top of his “Hide and Go Seek” list. The hunt is on.
Obviously, if you haven’t read Defender there is no point in starting with Hunted, although, Todd, again, doesn’t answer all the questions that burn through the reader’s mind, there are obviously more revelations to come in the next book, but given that this book is almost 500 pages it is an epic tale that starts with a letter – number 271, to be exact, from Amy that is addressed to a “Dear Stranger”. What follows that letter is a story divided into four parts and a final chapter, although we do get “The Part Between Parts: The Quarry” that is squeezed into the book between parts two and three. Given my well known aversion to long-ish books, especially with long chapters, I’m happy to report that there are 59 chapters in Hunted and Todd is very adept at racking up the tension and the action, particularly in the parts entitled “Hide and Go Seek”, “The Chase” and “Springing the Trap” – who does the springing? And who is trapped? No spoilers here, but suffice to say that Hunted is every bit as good as its predecessor in a story that is grim, intriguing, and fast moving and does what it has to do by setting up the third book in the series while leaving the reader knowing what it is to be hunted in this mad, bad, new world.
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