Plot Type: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—5; Sensuality—2; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: Orbit
The traders/raiders and the townies are the predator-prey middle class of the societal ranks. At the top are the Queen of Wastes, whose falling-down mansion serves as neutral ground, and the newcomer who calls himself Saint and claims to be bringing law and order back to the world. The bottom feeders are the sharks—raiders who traffic not only in stolen goods, but also in human flesh: "...even in the desperate, lawless world of the wastelands, sharks are hated by all. They practice the last taboo, the one globally acknowledged evil, the act too immoral and repulsive and unfathomable to be accepted: cannibalism." But, you see, a person needs protein to stay alive, and the only protein left in the wasteland is of the human variety, so even though people revile the sharks, they buy and eat their "hog meat" and don't ask any questions about its source. (Notice the license plate of the jeep on the cover of Bite.)
Click HERE to read an interview with the author about Bite.
Kid's first clue that Wolf and Dolly are not on the up and up are the stinking, "red-stained sacks of something-or-other sitting in the backseat." Wolf has sent his other two gang members ahead to scout out a near-by town: Tank, a huge, fat man who provides muscle for their frequent fights, and Pretty Boy, a handsome but cowardly young man who has the charisma and persuasive skills of a televangelist. Unfortunately, neither Tank nor Pretty Boy is anywhere in sight when the jeep reaches the town, so Wolf tries to handle their "hog meat" sale on his own, with disastrous results.
The plot plays out in a series of scenes that alternate between town-to-town road trips and hand-to-hand combat with various enemies. At one point, they visit the Queen at her Crossroads mansion, but (as is the usual case) that adventure doesn't end well at all. Eventually, they learn that a price has been put on their heads and that every town has been given their descriptions. So there's nothing to do but to go after the man who is promising to pay for their capture. The result of the inevitable showdown that climaxes the book is that Wolf and Kid discover that the line between good guy and bad guy can be very bleary.
Bite is a compelling read with a plot that races along, fueled by the sarcastic, darkly humorous dialogue among the gang members. It has the feel of a Bruce Willis Die Hard movie gone wrong as the gang cobbles together one preposterous scheme after another, only to have each one go awry. The gang members always manage to come away bruised, beaten, and shot, but—somehow—victorious and ready for their next adventure. Kit's coming-of-age experiences take her from naive prey to savvy predator, and it's an intriguing and thought-provoking process that kept me glued to the page.
Merbeth does a masterful job with characterization, creating a gang of thugs with no names and no pasts and shaping them into five fascinating personalities just through their words and actions as they eat, drink, argue, fight, and kill their way across the wasteland. For example, Kid is convinced early on that Wolf is a fearless man, based on the way he eats his food: "He eats slowly, which is strange. Most wastelanders eat as quickly as possible, not only because we're starving half the time, but because we're afraid someone might take our food. The way he eats shows that he's not worried about either of those problems. It says a lot about him and raises more questions, too."
In the end, it all comes down to loyalty and friendship in the moment, with each one knowing that death is always just a final breath away: "A person one second, meat the next That's the nature of the wastes." All of the main characters are likable, even when they are doing horrific things to other people—and, believe me, they do a LOT of awful, bloody things. Do you believe that you could never root for a gang of murderous cannibals? Trust me, you'll be cheering for this group from the time you first meet them. Just put yourself in their place and ask yourself, "How far would I go to survive?" By the end of the book, Kid knows the answer to that question and learns to live with it. This is a fresh, new take on post-apocalyptic fiction, and I highly recommend it.
Click HERE to go to the Amazon.com page for Bite where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.