4 stars out of 5.
The USA has been ravaged by Civil War. It’s thirty years since the first wind-borne viruses ended the war between North and South – and still they keep coming. Every wind brings a new and terrifying way to die. The few survivors live in constant fear, hiding from the wind – and from each other.
In this harsh Southern expanse, brothers Garrett and Dyce Jackson are on the run from brutal law-enforcers. They meet Vida, a lone traveller on a secret quest. Together, they will journey into the dark heart of a country riven by warfare and disease.
This is the story of Dyce and Vida.
This is the story of The Cure and how it came too late.
This is the story of South.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
South is a post-apocalyptic tale taking place thirty years after the war for unification ended between the North and South USA. The actual dates the events all happened aren’t mentioned and your left to vaguely guess for yourself the years when the events did take place though it has to be wrote that the deliberate fugue in the time frame by Owen doesn’t detract at all from the story.
South has a core set of main characters: Garrett and Dyce/Alerdyce Jackson, Vida Washington and her mother Ruth, Felix Callahan (the Weatherman) and Tye Callahan. We also meet various others along the way who all play varying roles in the book but the named group above are at the centre of the story. While on the run from the Callahan’s, who are led by Tye and are the South’s version of law enforcers, Garrett and Dyce encounter Vida when hiding from the winds, their journeying together though it has a few twists and turns and time apart subsequently leads them stumbling into Felix Callahan, after a few more mishaps and twists our group set out travelling to find The Mouth a colony that is supposedly free of disease, it’s only been mentioned in whispers and no one knows for certain if it’s real or not but the group set-out to find The Mouth and hopefully the cure to, though things don’t go as planned as you move towards the books conclusion. This is only a very basic description of the story as I don’t want to spoil the book in any way for any potential readers as it’s a journey you need to take alongside the characters. So, I’ll just write it’s an engaging story with plenty of twists and turns, there are some you will see coming and others you won’t with a set of fascinating characters in a brutal setting.
We learn about the past and the unification through Felix Callahan via a cassette tape he made sometime in the past and now listens to, as a way to make sure he still remembers who he is, the names of people, his cat in particular and the events that have happened to, he does this to make sure that he hasn’t been infected by a virus caused by the winds. It’s been done before in other books where recordings have been used to remember the past but I always like it as a plot device, finding it adds to the story instead of having the more standard flashback paragraph/chapters or characters talking about the past between them as a way to learn more about the time, the story and the world before. I think for me personally it’s partly to do with my love of computer games, I always like finding the audio diaries scattered throughout the game world and listening to them (the Bioshock games audio diaries are amazing, any gaming fans will agree they contain some of the best writing in games) as they add alot to the story and your hearing first hand someone recounting their personal experiences. I know that would happen if you were speaking to the actual person but I find it poignant as your listening to someone and you don’t know their fate and you could’ve listening to their last words. With Felix, yes he’s alive but you listen with him as he listens to himself hoping he remembers what’s on the cassette he’s playing for his own sake, it really draws you into his character.
Anyhow, I digressed their slightly mentioning games in a book review, some of you willbe screaming travesty! Apologies, now back to the book. While not the main character, Felix is one of the most involved, playing a pivotal role but more than that acts as the anchor and bridge between the past and the present. Tye Callahan is in both timelines to but we only hear about him in the past from Felix reciting his memories on his cassette tape, though I will say Tye has a large role in the events that unleash the viruses upon the winds and it brings back story to Tye as you learn more about him and see why he acts how he does in the present.
South is both a story and a character driven read. The characterisation is of a high standard with each character having their own personalities, traits, flaws and reasons.You have your good characters and your bad and while it’s clear who falls on each side of the line, it’s not black and white, there’s countless shades of grey in between and all couldbe deemed to be lacking in morality and be classed as morally ambiguous. Actions from some of the good characters surprise you, one keeps a secret merely for self-preservation – that’s normally something you would associate with a bad character and though you don’t like the bad characters often you can sympathise with their plight as they’re all just trying to survive, even if you do question the methods used.
Along with the deep multilayered characterisation praise also has to go to the writing in South, it’s informative without overburdening you with useless information that doesn’t add anything to the story, instead the writing is sharp, well paced and to the point always moving the story forward while giving you detailed descriptions when needed helping to paint vivid imagery of the scenes and settings.
The science behind the wind-borne viruses and the cure are both believable and the actual idea of using the wind to carry viruses is unique and imaginative, it shows thought to try something different as the cause of the catastrophe for the South instead of just the far more standard nuclear bombing we see in many other books of the same genre. Yes, we have seen viruses before spread by humans and the subsequent germs in the air from their coughing, sneezing, breathing and also touching/contact with other people, in South, viruses canbe caught from these things to but it’s still the wind that is the host carrier for the plethora of different viruses on the weather systems and your left with a sense of ominous dread, always being on the lookout for signs the wind is picking up in force and the need to find shelter before it does start gusting and blowing.
Unlike with some other books in the genre that encapsulate the destruction of the whole world and the aftermath, South is a smaller, much more personal book focusing on a small group of characters and a singular area (the South) we only ever hear of the unification war between the two sides of the US, we don’t know what the rest of the world thought and/or if they tried to stop it happening. We don’t find out if the wind-borne viruses have spread throughout the world or not and we all know that weather cycles move from one continent to the other (being from the UK we’re always left with the aftermath of the storms that affect the US, it’s only the remnants but it does make you question in the book if the winds have spread and are affecting other countries). For the North, they won the war thanks to the viruses and we’re given the impression that things are going well for them, having a cure, food, electricity/power and most of the normal amenities. These may sound like bad things, the not knowing what’s going on, etc but they’re not as South is a streamlined and personal book pulling you into the tale of survival by a core group of characters in that one singular area. The book and Owen do a great job of portraying the South as a barren and desolate area that’s been ravaged by the winds, the survivors have nothing only what they build and make for themselves, there’s no food, only a small number of animals, no way to travel apart from walking and no real hope, always living with the constant threat of the winds and infection from both the winds and infected survivors, the people of the south have to carve out an existence as best they can.
Going back to the unification of the US at the beginning of the book, with the current state of the world, especially in the US and with the recent situation in the UK with the referendum and it’s result. The unification is a premise that isn’t a million miles away from reality and you can really believe that something like it could happen in the future, it’s feasible and it really makes you think, questioning what if? What if this did happen to any country in the world, what wouldbe the consequences? And surely that’s one of the signs of a great book, a book that makes you question and think.
I only found out about South after somehow stumbling onto the publisher (Corvus) via Twitter, after a cheeky tweet enquiring about a copy to review was met with a yes (many thanks) and now after finishing the book I’m glad to say I did! After been left majorly disappointed by a recent book in the genre that had garnered so much fanfare, advertising and praise behind it (The Fireman by Joe Hill) I found myself feeling jaded with the genre that contains some of my favourite ever books. However, the gritty, dark and realistic South has rectified that situation, sweeping in under the radar and then gusting up a storm as I read it-see what I did there with the weather/wind reference! 🙂
South is a high quality addition to the post-apocalyptic genre with a harrowing story about survival that captivates, engrosses and pulls you in from the first few pages through to the last. It’s a book that deserves to be read. Owen deftly finishes off the tale of the South while leaving open possibilities for a sequel, North maybe?? Hint hint! 🙂