After Minnesota is overrun by ancient Scythians and a wasp-borne plague, 16-year-old Macy and her family embark on adventures of ever-escalating weirdness as they make their way down the Mississippi toward safety that no longer exists.
DeNiro (stories: Skinny-Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, 2006) opens his debut novel in semi-comic register, as the family struggles to adjust to a weird new order involving soldier-looters in Lakers jerseys, the shuttering of all non–fast-food businesses, SUV chassis towed by mules and a scar-faced guard at the family’s riverside internment camp who sends Macy a looted necklace via her younger brother Ciaran. “I had a disfigured stalker with a sword,” she wisecracks. “This made going stag to junior prom look like a joke.” The mood grows steadily darker and grimmer. First Ciaran gets involved in intrigues among factions of the anachronistic warriors who have overrun the entire country and are battling for turf from coast to coast. The family manages to escape on a boat that limps south toward St. Louis, where Macy’s father, an astronomer, keeps insisting that a university job awaits him. Along the way both Macy and her mother are stricken with the plague; Macy’s sister runs off and is sold into indenture; they encounter elephants and giraffes, a wooden submarine and a talking dog. Eventually Ciaran is captured and sent south to Nueva Roma for trial and execution. Their father, now thriving in the former St. Louis as an astrologer, dispatches the recovered Macy to the grand delta capital to see if anything can be done to help her brother.
A fast-paced, suspenseful dystopian picaresque, part Huck Finn and part bizarro-world Swiss Family Robinson, with the latter winning out—to the benefit of those reading for plot and perhaps the disappointment of those looking for literary ambition.