Publisher: Smithcraft Press
Year: 2013 (22 December)
Source: Review copy
It took a long time to happen but when the signal finally came it marked the beginning of the end. A plague is unleashed and smeared on doors, park railings, airplane seats, walls – everywhere – and the result is apocalyptic. Few humans survive but those that do discover that there may be even worse ahead. Our hero Tom is one of the survivors but as we follow him through the heartbreak of the devastation and the peril of its aftermath we also learn about the source of the plague and its purpose. At the centre of it all is the figure of Milandra. But who is she and what does she and her ‘disciples’ want?
The Cleansing is the first part of Sam Kates’ Earth Haven trilogy and it is one of the best apocalyptic visions I have read in a long time. This is a genre that pulls me to it but The Cleansing is different. It combines the tension and horror of the actual plague apocalypse with something original and surprising. Time is spent watching the spread of the disease. We see multiple human tragedies; we witness purposeful hands wipe death on every surface, some with relish, some with reluctance; we see it invade schools, homes and towns. This is no zombie plague. The leisure with which the apocalypse is developed before our eyes is enormously compelling and sets up well the rest of the novel in which survivors and perpetrators alike find themselves on the move.
There are lots of characters to get to know here and Sam Kates brings them all to life, finding evil or goodness in surprising places. Tom is an appealing hero, likeable and very human. How he deals with the death around him is deeply touching and extremely sad. His partnership in survival with Peter is fascinating and unusual. Milandra is no less interesting and, even though a few individuals among her followers are less fully realised, there are some intriguing dynamics at work as they fulfil their doomladen tasks. This is a book full of varied emotions – experienced by the sufferers and by those who inflict the suffering. Backed up by some extremely intense action set in a vividly described, often horrifyingly familiar world, this is a novel I did not want to put down. The fact that scenes divide between the US, the UK and Australia contributes to the appeal. This is a global catastrophe, affecting all our countries.
This might be the first of a trilogy but I thought it ended well. I am desperate to read the next in the series but there was enough closure on the preliminary events dramatised here to make The Cleansing have a completeness of its own. There is some explanation of events in this novel which I found relatively hard to accept but I think that this would have been hard to avoid. The extraordinary consequences of these events more than compensate and they may well stand out less in subsequent books. I did have one wish, though. I wished The Cleansing had been longer. This is too good to be this brief!
The Cleansing is a science fiction apocalyptic thriller. You may have to suspend all powers of disbelief but it is more than worth it. The writing is excellent, the leading characters intriguing and the emotion of it all grabs a hold from the very beginning. I cannot wait for Part Two.