Book Reviews

Book Review: The After War by Brandon Zenner

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This book was reviewed for the San Francisco Book Review

 

Zenner’s The After War is a fierce post-apocalyptic story of war and loss, of nature’s vengeance, of survival in the face of overwhelming odds. As humanity begins to wage World War III upon itself the very planet decides to wage its own war against the species that has become a global parasite. We are due another slate-wiper virus, a disease so virulent, and so hardy, that it decimates the majority of the population. In a time of fast global travel, what once may have been isolated to a region, or continent, can spread with ease across the entire planet. Zenner has woven a gritty narrative of a future all too terrifyingly possible for us.

 

The first part of the story follows Simon Kalispell and Winston, and Brian and Steven Driscoll in turn. They have all been safely sequestered away by family- Simon in a remote cabin, and the Driscolls in an underground bunker. We follow each as they begin to emerge from their havens some two years after war and nature have torn civilisation asunder. Each has a plan to reunite with family and they set out on the long road to reach the meeting places.

 

What they find after emerging is beyond anything they might have imagined. Humanity has very little claim to that title any longer. Those pockets of humans still alive are few and far between. Either out of desperation, or in the spirit of taking complete advantage of the conditions, many people have turned to indulging their darker sides. Slavery, murder of helpless captives, rape, cannibalism. All that and more has become commonplace. It’s under such conditions that our protagonists must navigate. We are also treated to reminisces of the past long before, and directly leading up to the war. Not all who start this journey are destined to complete it.

 

The second half of the book shifts tone and focus. We still get perspective from Simon, Winston, and the Driscolls, but it becomes more sharply focused. No longer about surviving a journey, now it’s about surviving amidst the remaining humans. They’ve found places they can tentatively call home. Now they are being called upon to defend it against rot from the inside and the out. This section, more than even the last, shows the depths to which humanity can sink.

 

I couldn’t put this book down, even when I knew I reallllyyy needed to be getting to bed. Sleep is good, but books are better. It’s easy to become attached to these characters. I was biting my nails at points, hoping everyone was going to survive the scene, or the chapter. Heck, sometimes just to the end of the paragraph. I really hope a sequel to The After War might be in the future at some point. I’d love to see how humanity, and Simon and Winston in particular, recovers.

 

My favourite storyline is Simon’s, throughout both the first and second parts. I liked the meditation and metta-meditation lessons woven throughout his narrative. Simon, and his past, resonated with me. He’s a person I’d like to meet here, now, in this time.

 

Zenner did a great job of bringing the terror of a pandemic to full life. This virus, though unnamed, seems the nasty older brother to Ebola Zaire, and that’s saying something. E. Zaire is one scary customer. I find stories like this, involving slate-wiper viruses. They’re like reset buttons, these virii, allowing a chance for the land to heal from humanity’s predations.

 

????? Highly recommended for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic stories akin to The Postman, The Alpha Plague, The Darwin Collapse, Wayward Pines, and others stories of a nature-born apocalypse.

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