An amazing set of short stories told after the Collapse of society, progressing forward with characters from the stories overlapping into each others among the same small town setting, where the future residents are now living like many humans of times past, growing crops, cooking from scratch, and living without electricity or plumbing. While this may sound almost depressing in a quick summary, all one must do is read the book to be envious of such small town life where the neighbors look after one another and everyone has an important role to fill.
In "Trade Secrets", Isaac and Josephine are running away from their cushy, corporate style life, and we learn it's because she's pregnant and babies are a commodity. We have our first glimpse at "The Academy" here, as a recruiter entices them with free passage to the states, promise of a place to live and shelter and protection for them and their future child. Jo brings with her a flash drive containing the trade secrets of the strangle runner, the horrible weed taking over the planet like a virus burning and scarring everyone it touches, and they know their employers will be looking for them. I couldn't stop reading this story once I began, the sense of urgency, the action, I just had to know what happened next! Anyone reading will relate, especially if you're a parent as these two had the ultimate goal of protecting their unborn child. Amazing writing when you simply cannot stop reading and the author made you really care about the characters and what happened to them. This was my favorite story in the book, but its such a close call as all the stories are good, but a great opening act to pull the reader in!
The next story, "Finding Joy" jumps ahead fifteen years. At first I was frustrated as I had gotten so attached to Isaac and Jo and their unborn baby, I wanted to know what happened next, but then the reader discovers that there is now a small town that was founded thru Isaac and Jo. (I hate to give many spoilers but When I came to give my review I saw that much in the book description so I don't think its too much, and my reviews don't go much past the descriptions, which I myself didn't read prior to the book, lol) In this second story we meet Rina, who is a rider, going to different Towns to deliver mail (imagine that!) And pick up packages and supplies and do general trades which mutually benefits the remaining communities. The riders always travel in pairs, of course as their are bandits and general bad people out there in this fallen world, but since Rina's cousin recently died she prefers being on the road mostly alone compared to the community. On her most recent trip she picks up a small child, Joy, about 4, and brings her home to her roommate Calliope as she usually does with children, only to discover Calliope never sent for her, Gretchen did, who's in the business of arranging marriages for money. Only she never expected such a young child to be sent. This story is certainly disturbing and reminds one that we certainly are in a whole new world. I was repulsed and fascinated and couldn't stop reading, waiting to see what would happen next. Again, this author really makes you care for the characters of the new world, and I found myself time and time again wishing I belonged to this community, that I was the one hassling over the price of bread with the bread maker!
In the next story, "The Monk", we meet Margotty, an eccentric midwife who is very educated for a young girl yet cast aside in this close knit community, regarded as being a witch type character for all her big medical words and scientific knowledge. We also meet Paul and his wife, Irene, who have been trying to conceive for some time without any success. Then along comes this strange, stuttering Monk. He blesses Irene's pregnant sister-in-law and counsels her when they're not around. After many visits to Margotty, Irene has learned she may never have children, at least not with Paul. She can't bear the thought. And in a small town like this, even if she were to lie with another man like the young midwife suggests trying, word would surely get around. Yet the monk has another solution for Irene, one from God himself he tells her. One that will bless her and, if she has a son, bless God's ranks. This was such an off the wall, quirky story I couldn't help but love it. A monk using religion to spread his seed, brilliant. Yes, I'm spoiling this story a bit, but there's still much to read, it is just such a great story the monk himself Carries with him and it was easy to see where this one was going with the monk from the beginning. Margotty was the real character star of this short novella, which teaches a real lesson on small communities and how even when they're tight knit, bonded by the end if the world, they'll always find someone to cast out. Even a young girl with one of the most important jobs there is. Especially as theme-centric as birth and regrowth is to the novel as a whole. Margotty is a person who is loved and cherished when needed and cast aside and forgotten the very next day. While she brings life itself into the world, her very community stands by watching her starve to death, freeze, without so much as shoes or a winter coat while they judge her decrepit yard, its growth the very healing herbs they beg for when they need something. Yet, even when they toss her scraps for her services, she shares them with her cat who can easily hunt for herself, because animals understand and love us more than humans sometimes, especially in poor Margotty's case. She's easily my favorite character in the entire book, so well written and so misunderstood, heart hardened yet she continues to help those around her because its what she knows, what she's good at and in doing so, she helps herself. I could read a whole book just about Margotty. Not many characters are do unliked, complicated and revered, but many more should be.
The fourth story is "Grasshopper Song", about a scavenger named Scout and his partner/roommate Beck. About lost his entire family when he was young, so he doesn't really let anyone in anymore. Him and Beck live just outside the city, close enough that nobody outside of the community will mess with them so they're "safe", yet outside the walls so technically they're on their own. Yet they get along and trade inside, but Scout really just likes being on his own after losing so many close to him, Beck is his friend but even with him he only lets him in so much. Beck on the other hand likes the ladies and goes into town often, drinks a lot, and puts up with Scout. They have a good thing going. Especially with Scout's ability to scavenge, finding old phonebooks and looting offroad places, overturned supply trucks, and places most looters wouldn't think to look for medicine, like plastic surgery offices or the sort. Pharmacies and hospitals have long been cleaned out so Scout's intelligence goes a long way and the two get by pretty well trading what they find. They have a nice existence for themselves all alone outside the gates until, one day, a large family moves in headed by Cal, who makes it his mission to follow Scout and loot what he loots. Cal is determined to run Scout from his home and Scout is determined to protect what's his. When the world is over and there is no law left, who's in charge?
The last story, "Veneranda and the Spy" catches us up with Isaac's daughter and everything that left us wondering what happened really since we left off in the first story (that wasn't covered inbetween). This is refreshing because I would have been frustrated if a few specific questions hadn't been answered, but they were. Veneranda is fifteen and just like her mother, all conspiracy theories and wanting to change the world to make it a better place. This is where she gets herself into trouble. Upon wandering through the woods, she comes across a man that tells her he's from the Academy, a place she knows is bad news. He says he was sent to take it down and into a scuffle with some guards there but got away. He just needs a battery which he's sure she has. It isn't long before he recruits her help on his mission and we're back into some action packed goodness for the final chapter. I still had some questions lingering about theman when I was done reading this one story though, and I wasn't unconvinced that perhaps he wasn't a double agent. Certain elements weren't very fluent, like the scuffle, the fact she thought he may have been faking his injury, and the events following their last conversation, which I won't spoil. All in all though it was a good action story and I'm probably just overthinking certain parts. The way the book wrapped up was a bit abrupt for me but it didn't leave anything unsaid or anything undone, you knew all was right in the world and this town and, again, I really hope that when the world does fall apart I can find my way to a town much like the one in this book.
All in all I highly recommend this book, it was impossible to put down and an exemplary piece of post apocalyptic fiction, truly showing what it means to be human and pick up the pieces and go on.
As a reviewer I am also obligated to add that this book was gifted to me by one of the authors but I am always completely unbiased in my reviews.