Defender by GX Todd (Voices #1)
I thought that Defender was an engrossing read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set in a post apocalyptic world the story here was sufficiently different and well written to keep me totally absorbed.
You may notice from the book synopsis that this is a book of voices – voices inside peoples’ heads that incite them to ‘do’ things. As the story unfolds we learn that a number of years ago these voices caused some sort of mass induced suicide, people taking their own lives and more often than not those of their family too. Of course there was a massive reduction in population and as a result the world in which we currently live was changed beyond recognition and services and amenities that we take for granted on a daily basis came to a complete stop. The world now is focused into small pockets. Many people choose a lonely and remote life rather than braving the cities where larger and quite often more morally questionable groups choose to exist. Cities can be scary places full of scavengers.
As the story begins we meet Pilgrim, alone on his motorbike on a dusty highway, miles from anywhere, when he spots a sign advertising ‘fresh lemonade’ and, literally, the voice inside his head persuades him it would be a good idea to pull over. This opening is just so surreal that I was completely hooked from the get go! I was totally picturing this remote highway with a lonely farmhouse gradually developing from a dot on the horizon to, for me, the farm from the Wizard of Oz (all in glorious sepia) – I know that’s just plain strange but I thought if we could have fresh lemonade during the apocalypse why not a Kansas farm with a bubbly young girl looking for the Emerald City. Okay, so this wasn’t Dorothy! Instead we meet Lacey. Lacey was in fact living with her gran. We discover fairly quickly that she’s now alone and her plan is to leave her home and try and find her sister and her niece who she hasn’t seen since the original voices/deaths began around 8 years ago. Against his better judgement Pilgrim (or Boy Scout as Lacey baptises him) agrees to give Lacey a ride into the nearest town at which point they will part company. ‘Something, something, something’, about the best laid plans!
Now I’m not going to go too much into detail about the plot. Put basically this is a story about Lacey wanting to find her family. A quest that will put her in the way of a few of the more nasty characters out there and perhaps unsurprisingly a number of these have grown into rather wild gangs. At the same time it appears that somebody out there is trying to round up all those people that hear ‘voices’ – for what purpose, we don’t quite know. Only that this person is talked about in hushed whispers around camp fires late at night. Is this ‘pied piper’ real or urban myth? What I will say is that as soon as Lacey hitched herself a ride off her remote little farm, well, I had a bad feeling.
What did I really like about this? A number of things. I’ll start out by saying that in terms of apocalyptic books Todd isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. If you’ve read stories like this in the past you’ll be familiar with the broken and ghostlike setting, the survivors who constantly forage, beg, steal or worse in order to eat or survive, the fact that people have pretty quickly lost that thin veneer of civility that holds their more basic instincts in check and the grim reality of a world that has been reinvented from a very harsh mould. However, firstly, there are no zombies – I’m just saying that upfront. Secondly, although the story has a number of grim and more violent aspects to it the fact that Lacey is so incredibly naïve gives it something of a different edge. I don’t know how but Lacey’s grandmother seems to have been able to protect Lacey and keep her innocent from the outside world. It’s almost like they lived in a bubble and whilst they were aware of certain realities they managed to take a step away and carry on their own existence without too much horror touching on their little world. What this actually does is make Lacey into a character that is definitely quite unusual in this type of story. She still has a sense of humour for a start, she hasn’t witnessed any real atrocities as the book begins and she’s managed to keep relatively well fed, even though supplies were finally becoming dangerously low. Quite honestly, you can’t help but want to protect her and this is clearly how Pilgrim starts to feel too but, and I’m not saying that she minds a bit of help, but she’s also quite resourceful herself. Pilgrim. He’s a character that has looked after himself and survived alone. His instincts are sharp and he’s quite useful in a fight or tricky situation. More than this though he has his very own ‘voice’ talking inside his head making suggestions and seemingly trying to help. The banter between Pilgrim and ‘Voice’ is really quite entertaining to read. Aside from that there is the doubt that you can’t help wondering about how come Pilgrim hasn’t been ‘talked’ to death. Is this a ploy? Will there be a twist along the way? But, again, in spite of concerns about why Pilgrim seems to be getting along with his ‘voice’ you can’t help liking him. He’s one of those characters that has had to deal in bad but underneath he is still good – which is probably why he keeps himself at a distance.
Obviously we meet other characters along the way – some of them the epitome of evil, some of them just attracted to the evil in order to serve their own base needs. Others who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On top of this there is the underlying mystery of what is actually happening. Not everything is given an explanation here and a number of threads are touched upon but not finalised. I’m not complaining about this as I’m hoping it’s because there’s more in the series.
In terms of criticisms. Well, this isn’t the first time that I’ve read books with a similar idea in terms of voices (or something) being inside a person’s head – but, even so, this still holds its own. And, I feel that I must mention that this is not a YA book. There are strong scenes of violence and torture and although they’re not gratuitous I just wanted to point that out.
Overall, this was a really good read and I’m not sure this review is doing it justice to be honest, partly because I don’t want to give too much away. To recap, an apocalyptic book with a difference, mysterious voices and plenty of signs that are leading to something a lot bigger. Characters that intrigue – one in particular that I have strong ponderings over and that I’ve been thinking about since I finished reading. I look forward to Voices #2.
I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.