BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Danny McCoyne uses his unique ability to control his murderous rage as a survival tactic as the human population dwindles even further.
PROS: A chillingly portrayed non-future; disturbingly compelling; captivating story.
CONS: An implied glimmer of hope at the very end slightly undermines the otherwise stark portrayal of mankind’s approaching extinction.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy end to a fantastic (and recommended) series
If there’s one prevailing trend in post-apocalyptic novels, it’s that there is always a glimmer of hope. Survivors can take some small comfort in the fact that the darkness is not eternal and that things will get better, no matter how desperate they may appear at the moment. In some ways, this light at the end of the tunnel gives the reader a reason to keep reading; you want to see the heroes survive. This norm of pervading hope is shattered in David Moody’s final book of his Hater trilogy, Them or Us.
The series (which began with Hater and continued with Dog Blood) documents the decline of England from the point of view of Danny McCoyne, an average guy who witnesses a deadly division in humanity. Specifically, some of the people (who came to be known as Haters) have succumbed to uncontrollable fits of violence against those that remain “Unchanged”. Danny learned the hard way that he is a Hater, and as resources become scarce and pocket civilitions dwindle down to nothing, Danny learns that he has something to offer. His unique ability to control his rage makes him the perfect scout to infiltrate the few remaining bands of Unchanged. This makes him a valuable asset to the latest despot that strong-arms him into submission.
So what happens in this new world order? For Danny, it means bouncing from one leader to another is a series of scenes that are almost episodic in their reading. Eventually, Danny’s unique talent catches the attention of Hinchcliffe, a Hater who leads the gang that runs one of the few remaining towns. While Danny enjoys what little comforts Hinchcliffe’s inner circle provides, the outer boundaries swarm with the underclass looking for scraps of food, not an easy task in this post-nuclear society. Not that Danny has it easy by any means; he is repeatedly besieged with one bad thing after another.
Them or Us obviously paints a dark, depressing picture of a dying civilization and, to be sure, this is something post-apocalyptic readers have seen before. But where most post-apocalyptic fiction carries a theme of hope, Moody’s post-apocalypse is hauntingly devoid of any reasonable chance of survival. It’s an exercise in watching people waiting to die. (This, despite a glimmer of hope implied near the very end.) The scary part is that its chillingly portrayed non-future was disturbingly compelling. It was simply hard to turn away.
I’ve mentioned before how, except for the “being undead” part, this series reads like a zombie novel. But Them or Us addresses an issue not often addressed in zombie films: what happens when there’s no one left to hunt? What becomes of the human race? The answers are not pretty, but they make for a captivating read.