After a plague destroys civilization, a young, white Virginian finds himself in the midst of a race war between barbaric neo-Nazi warriors and people of color and their allies throughout Appalachia in Neill’s (Finding St. Lo, 2019, etc.) novel.
In the 2020s, a deadly disease that eats away at the skin kills billions, resulting in an anarchic society. Most survivors are people of color, particularly those of African descent, who have natural immunity. Others that remain include white supremacists, born-again Confederates, neo-Nazis, doomsday Christians, and resurgent Viking-raider types, who are gearing up for a race war—and all are heavily armed. Scot Jamieson is the lone survivor of his prominent Virginia family, who wrote him off as an underachiever. Now he’s alone again after his post-catastrophe settlement—the remnants of his family’s affluent housing development—is devastated by a wave of white brutes sweeping through the territories. Members of a largely black settlement of generous, savvy survivors rescue him using impressive fighting skills. He finds a mentor and verbal sparring partner in Kimberly Bethune Tomlinson, a home-schooled black girl with an illuminating Afrocentric worldview. However, many of the strong emotional bonds that Scot makes are shattered when barbaric racists kidnap or murder his friends. Scot tries to find and protect those who still remain despite ongoing conflicts with a marauding Nazi horde called Right Nation, who draw their fascist philosophy from such sources as the Bible and racist writings of Abraham Lincoln. Its leadership only tolerates nonwhite people in their midst as underlings or sex slaves—as Kim soon finds out.
Imagine a vivid, nail-biting apocalyptic horror novel on the scale of Justin Cronin’s The Passage (2010) or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954) that replaces mutated vampire-zombie-cannibals with scruffy Ku Klux Klan recruits (who are also cannibals). Certainly, the action is satisfying—Neill can describe ghastly, unsparingly bloody combat and atrocities with the best of them—but there’s also no shortage of thoughtfulness. By getting inside the heads of the enemy, the author clearly lays out the sinister cosmology of organized racism and entitlement, as when Right Nation leaders orate at length and debate the formidable Kim to justify their hateful crusade. President Donald Trump and his followers are specifically called out, as are Fox News, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock, and shoutouts and praise go to former Black Panther Bobby Seale and African American authors Octavia Butler, Audre Lord, and James Baldwin, among others. Although Scot’s eyes are roughly opened to his society’s race-related shortcomings, the much-abused hero still manages to come up with a potentially nonviolent strategy to undermine the white-supremacist onslaught. Even so, the lengthy narrative ultimately winds down to a grisly grudge-match showdown between the principal characters, painting the pages red—and leaving far too much hanging. Another grating detail is the inclusion of an angelic orphaned girl, who apparently exists only to be put in deadly danger—a narrative device that calls to mind the adorable tykes that Michael Crichton insisted on menacing with velociraptors.
An angry, harrowing, and topical, if occasionally flawed, what-if actioner.