Barricade by Jon Wallace
Barricade by Jon Wallace, one of the Gollancz debut releases this year, has disappointed me. To say that is probably unfair, as the book is good without being able to reach further heights. So what’s my problem? Am I just going to kick the book while its down for the heck of it? No, my problem stems from the description of the book. This had been the book from the Gollancz deal I’d looked forward to the most. Mainly because the description made my mouth water.
His fare is a narcissistic journalist who’s touchy about her luggage. His human guide is constantly plotting to kill him. And that’s just the start of his troubles.
On his journey he encounters ten-foot killer rats, a mutant king with a TV fixation, a drug-crazed army, and even the creator of the Ficial race.
This is a short quote from the description (as always, you can find the whole description on the next page). Seems totally over the top, doesn’t it? A book that doesn’t take itself quite serious, that might overflow with black humor. I mean it has ten-foot rats, a mutant king with a TV fixation, and the protagonist’s fair seems to be quite crazy too. All of that is next to irrelevant. Let me tell you a bit more about what the book actually is, so you can judge for yourself.
It’s a rather common apocalyptic setting shortly after an attack with atomic bombs on England. The island had been the last inhabitable space on earth and those that got no place on it decided that no one should have it, so they bombed it. The humans in this setting are all poisoned by the radiation and don’t have a very high life expectancy.
We follow a so-called ficial, from a race of super humans that was originally engineered to build vast towers, so that the refugees that swarmed towards the island could find a place to live. Instead, they started killing off the humans, as they were deemed the reason the planet had such problems in the first place. These ficials now live in small strongholds besieged by the remaining humans and only a select few can still travel between these strongholds.
One of them is Kenstibec, originally a builder model, who has now found his passion in driving as he’s unable to build anymore. On the journey with the journalist, his fare, he notices that the world around him has changed and not everything might be as he thought it was.
The biggest reason I deem this book a good read is the main character and the change he undergoes over the course of the journey. That’s especially visible in his interaction with their guide, a human peddler they force to help them through the human checkpoints. He seems to transcend his inhuman and unemotional nature to finally become something more human, someone you can relate to.
The story itself is just a short journey with small and large bumps that ends somewhere strange and uncertain. Again, the protagonist is what makes it interesting, on one hand with his fixation on his car, on the other with his “builder-view” on everything. The often abandoned and derelict structures always make him think about what he could do to either save them or build something new in their place. That he’s unable to do so is something you can pity him for.
I’m not sure if this is the start of a series, but it seems like a standalone, were the very last ending, the last few pages, are better than all the action and revelations directly before. The best parts of the book aren’t the main story, but the retrospectives on Kenstibec’s past and how he got treated first by his human owner, and then by the leaders of his own “race”.
Concluding: If you’re in the mood for a dark near future apocalyptic vision that has unhuman supermen and women, with humanity deformed and forced to live in a poisonous and dangerous world, then this might be the book for you. The book’s main strength lies in its protagonist and it might be something for you if you like to see believeable change in your main characters. I’d suggest you ignore the “vibe/tone” of the description, as that’s more of a mislead than anything.