Wednesday, 7 December 2011

‘Them or Us’ – David Moody (Gollancz)

When I reviewed ‘Hater’ and ‘Dog Blood’, I mused a little bit on what we really mean by ‘hate’ and how (more often than not) we’re far off the mark when we say that we hate something. We are though, aren’t we? ‘Hate’ is such a strong word with only one outcome to it; we’re not talking half hearted ill feeling here, if you hate someone then you want them dead and out of your life forever. There are a number of people that I really dislike (some of them might even know who they are...) but I don’t want any of them dead!

David Moody is a man who really knows what it’s like to really hate. He should do, Moody has already written two books detailing the breakdown of society when one half of the populace suddenly realises that it must kill the other half if it is to survive. Both ‘Hater’ and ‘Dog Blood’ have stayed in my head ever since and not just because of that initial premise. Where both books shone for me is that Moody is not afraid to follow that path to its inevitable conclusion, no matter how dark and bloody the path is. ‘Disturbing’ isn’t a strong enough word for the resulting journey but you can’t help but make that trip. After all, who among us wouldn’t want to see the results when an author pulls the curtains right back on his creation and lets his readers see it in all its bloody glory?
It was this raw honesty that gripped me for the first two books and made sure that I picked up ‘Them or Us’ pretty damn quickly when it came through the door a couple of days ago. I had to see how it all ended and, although it wasn’t the ending that I saw coming, Moody didn’t disappoint.

The war between the Haters and the Unchanged is almost at an end but will there be anything left for the eventual winners? After the events of ‘Dog Blood’, much of the United Kingdom is a smoking radioactive ruin and the few remaining safe areas are hotly contested by surviving Haters. The coastal town of Lowestoft is one such area and Danny McCoyne has not only found himself there but has made himself indispensable as a man who can ‘hold the hate’ and therefore hunt out surviving Unchanged.
As the Unchanged grow less in number though, pressure increases on Lowestoft’s ruthless leader (Hinchcliffe) to consolidate his position by other means and Danny finds himself in a number of situations that he’d rather not be in, including a pivotal confrontation that could have immense repercussions for everyone still alive. Danny has a decision to make, it’s either ‘Them or Us’ and there’s no third way...

If you’ve dropped at least one nuclear bomb on your main character (ok, not ‘on’, it’s more like ‘very near to’ but you know what I mean) after he’s clawed his way out of a rapidly disintegrating city, where can you go with him next? The answer is ‘nowhere really’, not when the rest of the country is in the same kind of situation and the war on the Unchanged is becoming a fight to survive instead. The only direction you can go is down and that’s where Moody takes us.

This approach is, for me, the main reason why ‘Them or Us’ feels a little more lacklustre than the previous two instalments. Everything that’s flammable has been blown up. All the people who need to die are pretty much dead. All that’s left is to either carry on fighting whatever is in front of you, and rail against the inevitable, or quietly accept your fate and wait for the end. Danny McCoyne’s story essentially ended in ‘Dog Blood’, ‘Them or Us’ is an exercise in tying up loose ends that doesn’t sit particularly comfortably with the other two books in the trilogy. I wouldn’t say that this is Moody’s fault particularly; if anything it’s a case of following the natural flow of the plot just that little bit too far.

That’s not to say that ‘Them or Us’ didn’t need to be written though, Danny is a character that I wanted to keep on following and ‘Them or Us’ rounds his story off in a manner that is inevitable yet strangely fitting at the same time. Danny is a man who never wanted to be in the position he has found himself in and will do anything to distance himself from the conflict. His ability to ‘hold the hate’ makes for an interesting perspective on the events of the book (and the trilogy as a whole) as it sits him right in the middle of the two opposing factions whilst giving him enough internal conflict to keep him interesting enough to make you wonder what he’ll do next. Being able to ‘hold the hate’ is exactly what makes Danny so important to everybody though and this throws him right into the middle of the plot when he would rather be on the outskirts. I couldn’t help but feel for him and that’s one of the things that kept me reading, Danny McCoyne is a man who always tries to do the right thing.

Moody also gives his readers an interesting look at how life ‘post conflict’ is panning out. The short description would be ‘not very well at all’ but Moody’s characters all live in such a way to make for a compelling post apocalyptic society, with the strongest Haters living off a starving underclass that is too tired to fight anymore. Brief flurries of violence (both against the few surviving Unchanged and each other) propel the plot forwards at a decent rate, and at just the right times, as well as conveying Moody’s message in a stark and unforgettable manner. The war was ultimately pointless as the winners don’t have the mindset to do anything with what’s left other than wait for the inevitable end. It’s a bleak message but one that’s very much in keeping with the overall tone of the series in general.

The final chapters of ‘Them or Us’ hearken back to the more frantic feel of the previous books and not only signed things off in the style I’d come to expect from Moody but also served to emphasise the utter futility of this war. There is nothing left to fight for but no-one realises it as they can’t see past the hate and fear.

‘Them or Us’ is a gradual tailing off of the ‘Hater’ trilogy rather than an explosive finale. While this kills the pacing and flow to a degree, it also serves as the ideal platform for what Moody has been trying to say with this series. In that sense, it provides a fitting end to the trilogy and keeps up the tradition of these books staying in my head a long time after I’ve finished them. If you’ve read the last two books then I reckon you’ll get a lot out of ‘Them or Us’. If you haven’t read the trilogy, and you’ve got the stomach for it, go and pick up ‘Hater’.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

That's enough of a recommendation for me :) I like dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories set in the UK, so I'll be picking up Hater as soon as I can :)