By Dave Hutchinson
Hutchinson's writing has, at times, turned out to be worryingly prophetic - he wrote about the break-up of the European Union while Brexit was just a twinkle in David Cameron's eye, in his astounding Fractured Europe series.
This time he's writing about life in rural England after an apocalypse. Worries of more prophecy aside, Hutchinson is one of my favourite authors writing today. For this series he's joined by another of my favourite authors - Adam Roberts, who has written the second novel in this series, Haven.
Shelter is set a century after two asteroids known as "The Sisters" hit the Earth, causing global devastation and a breakdown of society. The resulting "Long Autumn" of unpredictable weather and years of scavenging from the remains of the old society is slowly being replaced with new, somewhat more brutal and harsh society. In the Cotswolds, something terrible and only vaguely-glimpsed is happening. And in a little corner of Berkshire two families are at war with each other. After decades of simply trying to survive, the battle to inherit this new world is just beginning.
As you might imagine, life in England (and most likely elsewhere in the world) has been reduced to an almost mediaval level with pockets of farms and small-holdings. Hutchinson paints a bleak, realistic picture of a life surviving under such a ravaged land. There isn't any government or police force to come running at signs of trouble, so instead there is this deep layer of mistrust and fear, a thin veneer of civility over a harsh, barely hidden violence.
Most of the story revolves around two feuding families - the Taylors and the Lyalls (which some are comparing to the Hatfield–McCoy debacle) - along with an undercover military operative called Adam. Eventually the path of Adam entwines with the two warring families simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The story is engrossing, on top of the realistic harshness, the actions each character takes are genuine and believable, as are the outcomes. There aren't any heroes, just everyday people making difficult decisions (and mistakes) in difficult circumstances. This, more than anything else really grounds the story, not not mention making it seem a more worryingly possible future.
Of course it is grim, it wouldn't work if it wasn't, but it doesn't descend into the grimness of Mcarthy or Cronin. It is also lifted by the authors wonderfully rich and rewarding prose, the writing confident. There are little glimpses of hope too, a working naval base in the south being one and the kindness of strangers being another.
Shelter is a truimph, a dark, vivid story of life in future England, beautifully bleak, rich and rewarding.
Written on 6th August 2018 by Ant .