Wednesday, 8 June 2011

‘Chasers: Alone’ – James Phelan (Atom)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed as well (or maybe I’m just reading too much into things again...) but if there’s a hint of the apocalyptic in a book then it’s far more likely to be ‘post-apocalyptic’ than the regular ‘happening this very second’ apocalypse. I guess this makes sense. All the different kinds of apocalypse have been done but what there will always be scope to explore is how people react to (and survive in) the wasteland that is left over after the bombs have fallen or the virus has escaped from the lab and done its thing. We can’t get enough of that can we? We’re all after engaging characters in a well drawn landscape that we can close the book on, at any time, and feel secretly glad that we don’t have to live there. That’s what it’s all about and that’s why you’ll see a healthy dose of post-apocalyptic fiction featured here on the blog; I love to see how people cope in the aftermath.

Given how much ‘post nuclear holocaust’ fiction I used to read at school (well, it was the eighties...) I shouldn’t have been surprised as I was to see ‘Chasers’ come through the door a couple of days ago. Young Adult fiction can do ‘post apocalyptic’ as well, that’ll teach me. I don’t normally read YA fiction (too much adult stuff to get through first) but the subject matter meant that I was always going to be up for reading this one. It’s a shame then that ‘Chasers’ really didn’t work out for me...

Jesse is on a school trip to New York when an explosion rocks the subway carriage that he is on. Fighting free of the wreckage, Jesse and his friends discover a city in chaos with deserted streets and buildings in ruins. The streets aren’t as deserted as they look though. Others have survived the disaster but they have somehow become less than human and will stop at nothing to get their hands on Jesse and his friends. The race is on to survive...

‘Chasers’ is a book with one hell of a twist right at the end. You get hints of what is to come, over the course of the book, but it’s all done so subtly that you’ll only get it with hindsight. It’s a twist that has ensured that I will pick up the next book to see where things go next. It’s just a real shame then that the rest of the book did it’s level best to stop me reaching that ending.

First up are the utterly non-scary predators that inhabit the bombed out ruins of Manhattan. Now, I know the whole thing about fear is that it can strike people in different ways. I may laugh at your pathological fear of fresh carpet (and apologies to anyone reading who may suffer from this fear, I’m not laughing really); you cannot understand why I’m so scared of wasps. That’s just the way it goes.
I found it impossible though to be scared at all of people chasing Jesse and his friends through the streets because… they were thirsty. That’s it, they were thirsty. Now that thirst makes the sufferers very dangerous to be around (and I’ve probably said enough already so no more spoilers from me!)  but I just wasn’t feeling the fear that Jesse and his friends felt. This was especially the case when it’s established that Jesse can outrun pretty much everything chasing him and this will help take unwanted attention from his friends. Everyone is going to be ok! This may be true but you can say goodbye to any tension.

The bulk of the book is taken up with Jesse and his friends sheltering inside one of New York’s more famous landmarks and I have to say that this part really dragged. There are some interesting glimpses into Jesse’s character but nothing that really leapt out and made me want to engage with the character. The rest of the time is basically spent with three teenagers wondering what to do next. Now you could argue that Phelan has given us a clear picture of a group of kids paralysed by the enormity of what has happened and maybe I’d even buy that. If this is the case though, he’s almost done it too well. Characters settle into their own routines and rhythms and things plod along just slowly enough to make you want to tear your own hair out.

And then that magical moment of revelation appears and everything is thrown into sharp relief… Like I said, this is what will have me picking up the next book; there’s a tale to be told now that is really intriguing. Was this one moment worth everything I went through to get to it though? I have to say… no. You weigh that moment up against the rest of the book and you find that ‘Chasers’ has been setting the scene, the whole time, for what is to come next. It’s a shame that this scenery isn’t inspiring in the least. The sequel is really going to have to up its game if it wants me to be around for the final book…

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really liked this book, and to what u said about about different fears, this booked scared the piss out of me. I dont know why. I think its cuz i got really wrapped up in the whole scenario, just me imagining what that ruined NYC looked like... Pretty scary.