Here be Dragons

I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous books ‘Remix’ and ‘Replica’, so this was a must for me. It’s a bit different, being post-apocalyptic with a twist of romance, and the basic premise is a bit of a stretch: after an epidemic wipes out most of the earth’s population, a sudden climate switch leaves the whole UK buried under metres of snow. The main character, Tori, has been left behind by the evacuation process and is trying to survive, along with a strange collection of others who missed the last helicopter out. There seemed to be a surprising number of couples who survived the epidemic, and everyone manages to get around rather well on all that freshly fallen snow, but never mind.

I love the idea of survival by committee (with fully minuted meetings, naturally), and scavenging by Argos catalogue, and the very British approach to keeping up one’s spirits in adversity – let’s start a book club, and have a monthly ceilidh. The author’s great strength is always her characters, and the motley collection of survivors is very believable. Even the walk-on parts, like Sam and Charlie, were well-sketched with just a few light touches, and everyone knows a Nina (I certainly do), running everything in her own insistent way and brooking no argument. And Tori feels like someone you could bump into in any pub in Britain. This early scene-setting draws rather a charming picture of the post-apocalypse world (in London, anyway).

But then Morgan arrives, and shortly afterwards his former pal Mike and his gang, and things take a turn for the more sinister. From here on, the book becomes a total page-turner, leading to tricky reader decisions involving staying up into the small hours to find out what happens, or going sensibly to bed and then lying awake wondering how Tori and co will get out of their current dilemma. The book is very much a thriller, and there are fights and gunshots and plenty of action and tense stand-offs, but time after time the author disarmed me by neatly avoiding the obvious resolution and coming up with some blindingly simple common-sense solution. It was all very cleverly done, and made perfect sense for the characters.

In the midst of all the mayhem, there are wonderful moments like Tori and Morgan’s spectacular way of reaching the shop several doors away, or what must rank as one of the most peculiar dinner parties ever. Many of the characters reveal their true natures along the way, and some rise unexpectedly to the occasion. Archie, the self-described God-botherer, in particular, has moments of true heroism.

The ending is in the same style, effective and very satisfying. The romantic element is perfectly judged, with enough doubts and hesitations on both sides to be credible, and no instantaneous leap into bed, just a gentle inching towards an understanding and a state of mutual trust. The book is a wonderful mixture of post-apocalypse thriller, romance and quirky British humour. It’s entertaining rather than profound, perhaps, but for those who can suspend disbelief enough to accept the basic premise, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended. Four stars.

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