Trade Paperback: 672 pages
Rebellion, June 2011
Take a familiar concept – post-apocalyptic earth by way of a plague. Launch a banner shared-world and invite authors to tell stories in the milieu. This is exactly what Abaddon Books has done with their Afterblight Chronicles. Conveniently, Abaddon has released the first three novels in handy omnibus format under the title Afterblight Chronicles Omnibus 1: America. In this devastated world, the Blight is impetus behind the destroyed civilization having ravaged humanity save for those 93% with a special blood type.
The first novel in the omnibus is Simon Spurrier’s The Culled, and here the protagonist tells us his story via first person narrative, although he never tells us his name. I thought this an interesting choice and in a lot of ways it does have an air of logic to it – when we go through our lives, do we ever reference our own names in our heads? This protagonist thrived on death before the Blight and is doing his best to continue that successful personal tradition. The unnamed character’s story comprises a majority of the novel and is set primarily in the Greater New York area after the protagonist travels from London via airplane. In New York, Spurrier shows how cults, such as the Church of the New Dawn, can thrive when led by a crazed passionate man who uses the situation of anarchy and a broken-down society to his advantage.
Rebecca Levene’s Cure or Kill is the second novel and centers on a woman who finds herself drafted into a vagabond Caribbean queen’s services in search for a cure. Levine gives the protagonist a name, Jasmine, who happens to be the partner of Spurrier’s unnamed protagonist. This novel is a bit more cerebral and not nearly as crazed, despite Jasmine’s schizophrenia and the fact that she was imprisoned in an underground bunker years prior to the start of the novel. Oh, this novel also features modern-day pirates.
Al Ewing’s Death Got No Mercy rounds out the omnibus and is perhaps the most over-the-top crazy fun of the bunch. The novel tells the tale of Cade, who ain’t a good guy, if you catch my meaning. The story starts with Cade being involved in a brutal fight, which he wins in no small thanks to his chain-wrapped fists. Cade then makes a journey to San Francisco for his friend’s insulin, and on the way fights a bear, religious sociopaths, and insane hippies. Yeah, this one was over-the-top. What comes through is that Cade is a survivor.
All three books show different aspects of the shattered world, though Ewing and Spurrier’s novels range somewhat closely together in their depictions of violence. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the pages of the book – I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and have enjoyed a fair share of media tie-in fiction. What Abaddon’s doing; however, is a different brand of franchise – based more so on interesting ideas, the editors of Abaddon seem to give their authors more free rein in terms of exploring and charting the world, and being more inventive with the characters.
One thing that stood out to me is how well airplanes (The Culled) and sea-ships (Cure or Kill) still function and are used. More often than not in post-apocalyptic fiction, the characters journey across the devastated landscape on foot, or maybe cars and trucks (Death Got No Mercy). This isn’t to say that the large, mass transports aren’t entirely plausible, it just stood out to me as perhaps an indication that civilization isn’t quite so devastated.
In the end, I felt each novel started out strongly but I had a tough time maintaining my interest through each; the strength of narrative pull subsided. Perhaps that was a timing factor with me. Another thing that made the omnibus difficult for me to read was the extremely small typeface, the difficulty of which was exacerbated in the italicized chapters in Spurrier’s The Culled. While I realize trying to publish three full-length novels under one cover could cause some problems in terms of page costs, but the full book is less than 700 pages. I’ve read many larger books in trade paperback and mass market paperback, some of which are indeed omnibuses, and the font has not been as painfully small.
The omnibus serves as a good introduction to Abaddon’s post-apocalyptic world.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford