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Monday, April 8, 2013

Anthology: "'Til the World Ends"

Author:  Julie Kagawa, Ann Aguirre, Karen Duvall 
Title:  'Til the World Ends   
Plot Type:  Post-Apocalyptic Romance
Publisher and Titles:  Harlequin Luna (1/2013) 

     Each novella takes place in a different type of post-apocalyptic world in which the survivors make the best of what is left to them. In each story, the theme relates to the importance of love. As the Beatles famously sang, "There's nothing you can make that can't be made./No one you can save that can't be saved./All you need is love, love, love is all you need." If you enjoy reading apocalyptic fiction, here's your chance to check out the power of love in three dissimilar future worlds.

          "DAWN OF EDEN," by Julie Kagawa           

Opening Paragraph: "In the summer of my twenty-third year, the Red Lung virus began its spread across the eastern United States. Flulike symptoms evolved to raging fever, necrosis of the lungs and finally asphyxiation, as victims choked and drowned in their own blood. By the time government officials knew anything was wrong, the virus had already made its way overseas and was rapidly decimating Europe and parts of Asia, with no signs of slowing down. A worldwide emergency was called; towns had been emptied, cities lay in ruins, and the virus continued its deadly march toward human extinction. We thought Red Lung was as bad as it could get. We were wrong." 

       The Red Lung plague has killed 84% of the world's population, and the survivors think things can't get any worse. Then, the dead begin to rise  each night as fanged, flesh-eating monsters, and more people die. Kylie is a doctor who survived Red Lung, and she has kept her clinic open to care for the sick. When Ben Archer brings his wounded roommate, who was bitten by one of the vampirish creatures, Kylie's life is changed forever. Soon, the vampire plague accelerates and Kylie and Ben are off on a cross-country trip to reach his family's isolated farm in the hope that they can find safety. What they find is a mutual attraction that soon grows to love.     

     Although there are a few soft spots in the mythology, this is a standard post-apocalyptic survival story with the usual it-takes-love-to-survive theme. IN this case, both romantic love and family love are part of the equation. Thematic quotation: "Taking my hand, he laced his fingers through mine, and together we returned to the open arms of our family."     

    This novella is the prequel to Kagawa's series entitled THE BLOOD OF EDEN, the story of Allie Sakemoto, who tries to survive in a world in which humans have become a blood source for the vampires who have taken over the world. The first book is The Immortal Rules.       

          "THISTLE & THORNE," by Ann Aguirre          

Opening Paragraph:  "If I didn't deliver the goods to Stavros by midnight, he would kill me. He was the local bossman in our ward. Mostly I scavenged and pawned stuff, but I also had training from my dad, who had been a top-notch cracksman in his day. Back then I thought it was an adventure when he took me on a job. Now it was a nightmare. In the Red Zone, people robbed and murdered each other outright for half a sandwich or a bottle of water."        

     In this novella, the world as we know it ended with a major chemical spill. Now, the rich are holed up in heavily guarded fortresses, while the poor live as best they can in the Red Zone, the barren, chemically contaminated lands outside the fortress walls. Marjolaine (Mari) Thistle comes from a family of thieves, and she's good at what she does. She has to be in order to keep food on the table for herself and her two teen-age siblings.

     As the story opens, Mari has been sent on a no-win mission by Stavros, the boss of the Red Zone. When she is nearly caught inside a fortress, she escapes with the help of Thorne, a one-time enforcer for Stavros. Thorne has decided that Stavros has gone too far with his murdering ways and plans to get rid of him and take over as the Red Zone leader. For some reason, he needs Mari's help, and that bit of reasoning is the weakest part of the story. Soon, though, Thorne discovers that Mari really can help him because of her mad skills at stealth and survival. Mari and Thorne share some flirty dialogue and a few simmering glances, but that's as far as it goes.   

     The theme is the importance of family and fellowship. Thematic quotation:  When Mari takes her siblings to a neighbor for protection while she goes off with Thorne to take down Stavros, her neighbor replies: "You took care of Irena when I was sick last year. Made me soup. I figure I owe you.l Of course I'll look out for them, protect them like they're my own."    

     This is the strongest of the three stories, with a terrific set of leading characters and a well-constructed mythology. I'd love to see Aguirre build this into a series.  

          "SUN STORM," by Karen Duvall           

Opening Paragraph: "I stared out the hospital window at the heat-glazed street below, knowing I shouldn't be shocked to see brown lawns, charred rooftops and the sun-scorched branches of leafless trees in the middle of January. But I was. I'd never get used to a hot winter in Colorado."     

     In the final novella, sun storms have devastated the earth and caused the deaths of many people. A person who is hit by the radioactive sun sparks that fall during storms is doomed to die almost immediately from Sun Fever. As is usually the case, some people are immune to Sun Fever. These survivors are called "kinetics," and each one of them develops a different weather-related power.

     Sarah, the heroine, is a kinetic who has been living with her father in a hospital in Colorado. She is a sun storm forecaster, and she is allowed special privileges in the town because she warns the citizens of pending sun storms, giving them time to get indoors. When Ian, a weather-controlling kinetic, comes to town, he and Sarah become romantically involved as they chase sun storms in near-by towns. Unfortunately, Ian is being followed by a slaver—an unscrupulous man who captures kinetics and sells their services to make himself rich. As the story plays out, the slaver catches up with the couple, forcing them to figure out a way to take him down.

     This is the weakest of the stories, with a plot that is bogged down with shallow characters and an unlikely ending. This might have been better as a full-length book, where the author would have had room to fine-tune the plot and add some complexity to the characters.   

     Once again, the power of love is at the heart of the story. Thematic quotation:  "I turned to face Ian, whose wide grin expressed joy and pride in what we had accomplished together."

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