Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Author:  K. S. Merbeth (aka Kristyn Merbeth)
Plot Type:  Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality—2; Humor—3   
Publisher and Titles:  Orbit
          Bite (7/2016)
          Raid (TBA)

     Here's how the author explains the premise of her series: "In post-apocalyptic stories, there are always groups of gun-toting psychos looting and killing their way through life. They’re usually presented as mindless villains, by-products of the craziness of the world, without backstories or motivations or anything that makes them seem human. And yet, they are human. So I started to wonder—who are these people? How’d they end up this way? What are their lives like behind the scenes? And those questions spawned the idea of a story with typical 'bad guys,' a crew of raiders, as the protagonists." 

     In this world, the planet has narrowly survived a nuclear war. Small groups of "townies" barely exist in hard-scrabble settlements scattered across the barren landscape. They rely on traders to supply them with necessary food, water, and other supplies. The "traders" are more aptly called "raiders," because they get their stock by looting towns and other traders' caravans. 

     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.) 

     The series heroine is Kid, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been on her own since she lost her father to the wastelands several years ago. All of the gang members go by nicknames, because names from the past mean nothing in this world. Kid finally reveals her whole, sad story near the end of Bite, so I won't spoil it by repeating it here. One day, just as she accepts the fact that she doesn't have enough food and water to make it to the next town, a jeep carrying a man and a woman stops, and the man speaks the opening words to Bite"Need a ride?". Kid's response changes her life completely.

     The two people in the car are Wolf and Dolly. Wolf is the leader of a gang of sharks (although Kid doesn't know that at first), and Dolly is a former prostitute with a sad backstory. In this Mad Max-esque world, Wolf has the audacity and fearlessness of any tough-guy gang leader in any post-apocalyptic film you have ever seen, but usually those guys are seen as shallow, mindless psychopaths with no redeeming qualities. That's the difference here. Merbeth fleshes out Wolf's character, along with the other gang members, turning them into more of a tough-love family than a gang of cannibals. Actually though, in the grim reality of this world, they are both.

     After a nuclear war, you'd think that radiation poisoning would be a major problem, but that is not the case here. There have been many deaths of infants since the war ended, and the rivers are full of nuclear waste, but the general population doesn't seem to be affected in any way. I'm not going to nitpick about that; I'm just going to accept it as part of the mythology of the series.

     Click HERE to read an interview with the author about Bite.

                         NOVEL 1:  Bite                          
    Kid has no name, no family and no survival skills whatsoever. But that hasn’t stopped her from striking out on her own in a world gone mad. 

     Hungry, thirsty and alone in a desert wasteland, she accepts a ride from two strangers and suddenly becomes the newest member of a bloodthirsty raider crew: Wolf, Dolly, Tank, and Pretty Boyoutlaws with big reputations and even bigger guns. Dragged on a messy chase, through shoot-outs and severed limbs, the group must outrun everyone they’ve wronged. 

     As they journey across the wild together, Kid learns that her new found crew may not be the heroes she was hoping for. And in a world that's lost its humanity, everyone has a bit of monster within them. How long will Kid stay hungry before she loses hers?

     Kid tells the story in her naive but world-weary first-person voice. As she decides whether or not to get into the jeep with Wolf and Dolly, she thinks, "It's obvious that getting in this jeep is a terrible idea....I must look like easy prey, with my ragged clothes and skinny body. So naturally, my answer is—'Sure, why not?'...This jeep and its driver are smelly, creepy, and very possibly dangerous, but they're my only ticket out of here."

     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 adventureKit'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 peopleand, 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 page for Bite where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

No comments:

Post a Comment