When a book is compared to the likes of The Girl With All the Gifts (review here), Black Mirror and The Walking Dead, its sure to grab my attention. Indeed, this debut novel from Nick Clark Windo is saturated with praise for its skillful plot and high concept thrills, an even more accomplished feat when you consider that this is indeed the author first foray into the world of novels. Despite the buzz surrounding this novel, I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels anyway, so this was always a book which was going to pop up on my radar.
It’s hard to summarise the plot of this novel, not only for the intricate complexity of its world, but also for fear of spoiling anything too vital to the overall enjoyment. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is by saying that it takes place after the destruction of a world which had reached peak levels of highly advanced technology. The ability to implant people with the Feed means that their knowledge, their memories, their very lives, are all connected on a live stream most similar to the social media sites so popular today. When the Feed goes down, thousands are killed, and those who survive are crippled by the massive loss of such advancements, their previous way of living appearing altogether unnatural. For Tom and Kate they face the horror of explaining to their daughter the new world she lives in, and why it is that no one can sleep unwatched. For if you sleep unwatched, you may be taken. If you’re taken, then you are better off dead.
I thought the short opening of this novel, set just before the collapse of the world, was a brilliant piece of highly skilled writing. In a very short space the author is able to fully immerse us in this strange world, giving us the information we need to begin the process of world building yet leaving us with enough of a cliff hanger to really intensify our reading. In this short opening we are given our first impressions of the Feed, experiencing it first hand from a characters perspective. These parts were especially commendable. Nick Clark Windo is able to replicate not only the fast paced nature of the Feed, highlighting the intensity of this communal link between the world, but also to show the chaos as things initial start to go wrong and the Feed goes into what is effectively a shut down. This was replicated extremely well, and I felt that it gave the readers the same sense of confusion which the characters themselves were facing.
Moving on from this initial opening, we find ourselves six years in the future as Kate and Tom are left to deal with this new world whilst also raising a six year old child who has no knowledge of the previous one. This sense of pace is something which is sustained throughout, with the feeling that we are continually moving forwards towards something, even when the characters are struggling inch by inch onwards. This great pacing also runs in parallel with the continued world building and character development, with everything moving swiftly forward in a well organised and engaging manner. We may be moving forwards temporally, but we are constantly learning more about the collapse of the Feed and the previous world, filling in the details of the past as we move ever forwards.
Plot wise, despite the reader engagement, I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily the most original of ideas at first. We’ve already seen quite a few famous book in which a remarkably advanced world crumbles, leaving us in some sort of post-apocalyptic state, but the idea of the Feed itself and the impact this has on the way the world thinks was truly fascinating. I found this side of the book completely absorbing and almost wanted it to follow this side of things more closely, despite the enjoyment of the fallen world. Likewise, I think the first half of the book probably shows more genre tropes out of its entirety, until we start to get these little twists half way through which keep building on the momentum already gained. Nick Clark Windo is a natural writer, especially in the more action filled scenes, and I think it’s quite easy to tell that he works as a film producer and screenwriter.
As already mentioned, the real showstopper of the novel for me was the overall idea of the Feed and what technology like this could mean for humanity. Today’s society relies very heavily on technological advancements, specifically the use of the internet, as well as certain social media sites which are rife within my generation. The author has been able to capitalise on this very cleverly, providing a great commentary on what our society could be heading for as well as opening up the discussions about what the advancements of science could mean for us as people. One section which stays in my mind quite vividly is when an older man tells a younger character that he has always ‘pitied your generation’. (p. 69) ‘Being a child. For me, before all that stuff was invented, that’s when I felt most alive. So many joys you never had. You were never actually present’ (p. 69). Are these not sentiments we often hear repeated back to us from our elders? Tales of time gone by, when thing were better and simpler? Even now I look back and view my generation as one of the last to have a childhood relatively free from the shackles of computers and the internet, one of the last to actually go outside and play in the streets until we wondered home for dinner.
Its themes such as this which really elevate the book to something more than a post-apocolyptic novel consisting solely of plot and action. The novel makes us think. It makes us question. It raises ideas of the past, the present and the future. It evaluates the progress of time and the damage this may have done not only to our personalities and morals, but also of the larger world around us. These added environmental factors, the not too subtle reminders of what the advancement of the human race might mean for the earth, is a scarily accurate future to consider. The book never feels preachy about this, or as if the author has written it to coerce readers into changing our ways, but it certainly gives you the opportunity to stop and evaluate our lives. We cannot hide from the truths which are studded throughout this book, even if they are masked in the enjoyment of this thrilling book.
Another point which I want to draw attention to is the clever structure of the book. The book works mainly in the form of split narratives, enabling the author to almost act as a devils advocate, giving the reader differing sides of an argument which both seem to make sense someway. We are drawn into a a debate on whose side is right and whose side is wrong, a troubling prospect when you come to realise that you can value the opinions from both sides equally. What I will say is that the changes between perspectives aren’t very frequent, meaning that the story stays very cohesive and allows us to stay for a decent amount of time following each set of characters and fully immersing ourselves in their heads. I think if the changes has been more frequent this would have massively changed how effectively the structure worked, so this was a great call on the authors side.
Endings for books like this, set amidst such devastation, are always going to be tricky to achieve and will forever disappoint a fraction of readers regardless. I personally thought that the direction the author took this novel was very well calculated and all in all quite a brave decision. I might not be what I was always expecting, and it might not even be what I had hoped for, but it felt very right and organic. I didn’t feel that the author had orchestrated the novels conclusion simply to shock readers, but felt that it was a natural progression of the story line. Although it may not be the picture perfect ending we envisioned, it is far from an over the top cliché, and felt much more raw in its emotions.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy post-apocalyptic novels. I’m quite amazed that this is a first novel, and I think the author has definitely utilised all of his best traits as a screenwriter to give us a wonderfully vivid story. If you’ve read book such as The Girl With All the Gifts or Defender (review here) and really enjoyed them, then give this a go!
Publisher: The Feed
Disclaimer – I was very kindly sent a copy of this book to review. I will only ever post my own honest opinions and will NOT write a favourable review in exchange for a complimentary book.