A post-apocalyptic novel sees a young man searching for his father and a cure for the mutations that have swept the world.
Center City is a wasteland of filthy strangers and roving gangs, all desperate for food, shelter, and other resources. The Sickness has struck, killing “something like” 80 percent of the population and causing many of the survivors to mutate and gain special powers. Sixteen-year-old Oscar looks for his missing father, an anthropologist who might be the key to halting the Sickness. With him is 13-year-old Alan, who’s one of the Changed. He has enormous glowing eyes and can speak with animals. On the way to the safety of the Arcadia compound, run by family friend Adele, Oscar and Alan must avoid the zealots who follow Walter, a God-fearing man who believes the Changed are demons. When the boys encounter the followers of Eli, who’s incorporating the Changed under his banner, security seems within reach. Eli’s men, however, are hunting a woman with plant-based powers named Roxy and her hulking companion, Art. The teens help the Changed individuals escape and take them on as allies. Oscar, while remaining hopeful that he’ll find his father, continues to have vivid dreams that mention someone called the Messenger. In this sci-fi series opener, Marsh (The Red, 2012) offers well-conceived superpowers (reminiscent of X-Men) and a land gripped by scarcity and lawlessness (as in The Walking Dead). His prose rings with surreal elegance in depicting the Changed, like the chameleon man whose “eyes puffed out from his skull. Blue, all-too-human irises sat inside scaled mounds of flesh, which moved independently from one another.” While Walter’s faction is terrible, Eli acts on the words God speaks directly to him. Marsh is careful never to equate spirituality with madness, and deepens the discussion when Roxy says, “The Universe isn’t limited by our understanding of it.” Though verbose at times, the narrative should satisfy action junkies as it ramps up to a grisly finale. Oscar comes into his own as a hero to rally around.
This rousing sci-fi series opener deftly balances action, characterization, and concept.