The Road to Winter by Mark Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book took me by surprise. I was expecting another tired,formulaic dystopian novel and what I got was a well-written, thoughtful and genuinely engaging story populated with vivid and interesting characters.
Finn is a boy living on the edge. After his family, most of his coastal town and indeed it seems Australia, has fallen to a devastating disease, he survives. A loner before the pestilence, Finn has adjusted to his new life with his dog, Rowdy, killing his own food, growing some, and trading with his surviving neighbour, Ray, who grows more veggies and has chooks. Ray and Finn stay out of each others way most of the time, because there is another group of survivors, Wilders, who think they run the place. They treat women (who are rare now as the disease hit them worst) as possessions, tagging them with ID chips to keep tabs on them.
With Finn’s recount of how the disease took hold, and the breakdown of society that followed, Smith has a deft touch. Enough detail to be compelling, but nothing gratuitous either. We understand that Finn has survived with a combination of cunning, stealth and, it must be said, some fortuitous planning by his parents. And I have to say, Rowdy is the PERFECT name for Finn’s dog – inspired writing right there!
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Rose arrives. Nineteen year old Rose is a terrified escapee from the Wilders compound, with a secret I won’t reveal here – but it’s a doozy. She and her sister, Kas, have become separated and Rose believes the Wilders have recaptured her. Begging Finn to help her rescue Kas, Rose wins him over and they set off on a dangerous mission to take her back. The Wilders are in pursuit of Rose, so Finn is left with no choice but to help her – to save himself as well.
I like Finn – he is independent, but vulnerable – with a yearning for his old life characterised by sneaking away to surf.
Something that kept me in touch with my old life. It’s dangerous, not because of anything in the water but because of what’s on the land – who might arrive in town while I’m caught up enjoying myself. But it’s a risk that’s worth taking to stay sane.
With its boy-and-his-dog, a girl appearing from nowhere, and band of rabid testosterone-driven yahoos, this book had shades of Patrick Ness‘s The Knife of Never Letting Go, so if you enjoyed the Chaos Walking series, you might like this one. I am interested to see where the next installment takes us, as our protagonists are in more peril than ever by the end of the story.
Bring on book #2!
For ages 13 and up