In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a woman with special powers and a small band of underground survivors take on a cruel warlord.
Some time after worldwide catastrophic events, few people live past the age of 40. An illness called Cling can be cured only with Clear, a rare substance that’s best found with the help of a “martyr,” a person who can also read minds—like Sadie, 35. She keeps her gift hidden and uses it sparingly (it can sicken or kill), which helps her win card games to buy fuel and avoid warlords such as Gen. Gash. That’s the world aboveground; underground are “moles,” descendants of the first survivors. Polymath Rafael “Rafa” Carrera Allende, 20, lives in one such community, an enlightened bastion. Locating a supply of Clear is crucial, so when the community’s expedition crosses paths with Sadie (deathly ill after overusing her gift), she seems like the answer to its problems. Complicating matters is a tunnel recently discovered that leads from the community to a spot beneath Gash’s lair. There’s also an undeclared war between Gash and Vidar, an arms dealer who employs bounty hunter Finn, who is also Sadie’s ex. They still have a connection, even if she won’t admit it. Finn, Vidar, the community, and Sadie have all the ingredients for a knockdown battle that could end Gash once and for all, free his slaves, obtain Clear, and keep civilization going. Though post-apocalyptic novels set in a Mad Max–like landscape aren’t new, Menapace (Side Effects, 2016, etc.) and debut author Bravo make their hard-bitten world come alive with telling moments, such as a border-town tavern that offers “bowls of what was billed to be cricket mush, but that Sadie knew was roach.” In such a tale, Rafa’s community could easily be made to seem weak and namby-pamby, but the authors intelligently show the hard work, care, and tough-mindedness it takes to keep civilization going. At the same time, the good guys deliver very satisfying beat downs to the baddies in scenes of rousing, cinematic action.
Elevates the dystopian genre with snappy writing, well-drawn characters, intriguing back story, and bracing battles.