Us 99 percenters will live outside the gates come the future, and it won’t be pretty—especially once the nukes start popping.
Baggott (Girl Talk, 2001, etc.), author of fantasies and light comedies alike, takes a somber turn with her latest, which opens with an exceedingly ugly period “after the Detonations,” a time when some people sicken and die from merely drinking the water and others’ faces simply melt away, where “death is sometimes measured” in the rasping coughs of the survivors who have breathed the nuclear winter. Tucked inside the safety of the Dome, where a privileged few are sheltered, young Partridge is safe. Impudently, though, he steals out into that world to find his mother, or at least find out why she refused to leave the city and take cover with her family. Out there, 16-year-old Pressia is trying to keep out of the clutches of the ugly fascist order that has come into power in a time of emergency. It’s a nasty bunch, given to playing games such as Death Spree, “used...to rid society of the weak,” as one of the impromptu band of resisters formed by Pressia and Partridge says, adding, “It’s really the only kind of sport around here, if you can call it a sport.” That band roams the countryside, gathering knowledge and skills, dodging the many, many baddies and bad circumstances that threaten to do them in, making a fine hero quest among the ruins wrought by both bombs and “the Return to Civility and its legislation.” Read between the lines, and the story acquires timely dimensions, though you need not do so to have good fun with the book. As fantasy novels tend to do, Baggott’s tome labors under heavy influences—not just Tolkien, the lord of the genre, but also Rowling, comparisons with whom are inevitable. William Golding’s and George Orwell's and even H.G. Wells’ spirits hove into view from time to time, too. Yet Baggott is no mimic, and she successfully imagines and populates a whole world, which is the most rigorous test of a fantasy’s success.
It’s a bonus that the hero of the piece is a young girl, which ought to serve as inspiration for more than a few readers. Whether Baggott’s imagined world is one that you’d want to live in is another matter entirely, of course. Damned Detonations!