Bite | K.S. Merbeth | 2016 | Orbit | 344p | Review copy | Buy the book
Kid could have been no further than a day or two away from certain death when she was picked up in the desolate, waterless, poisoned post-nuclear wasteland by Wolf, Dolly, Pretty Boy and Tank. It’s not long at all, though, before Kid wonders if certain death might not have been the better option. For Kid has fallen into the company of Sharks, despised by just about everyone else for their disdain of humanity’s last taboos, and they seem to have adopted her as their pet.
It appears that there is a new force in this desolate toxic world and he has put Kid’s new ‘family’ high on his hitlist. Wolf’s gang must find him before he finds them and so they have a journey ahead of them and it is not going to be easy. There will plenty of opportunities for Kid to prove herself worth keeping. There will be even more opportunities for Kid to die an unpleasant death – or worse.
This is a world in which few have a real name. Better to have a nickname, that way you might not become too attached. The older generations, the ones who made it, remember the bombs, living in bomb shelters, but for youngsters like Kid, they only know the scramble for life in the buried ruins of towns and cities alongside angry survivors. Kid’s new companions are a broken bunch, each with their own scars, entirely untrustworthy, ruthless, killers one and all. But there’s something about Kid. She seems to bring out the best in the worst.
Bite takes us deep into Mad Maxy post-apocalyptic territory and presents us with a thoroughly entertaining, fast, funny, revoltingly gory adventure that I gulped down in a couple of sittings. The desolate setting is really well depicted. This is an ugly, ugly world. But there is humour to be found in all this ugliness. After all, if you don’t have a sense of humour in this poisoned world, you might as well give up right now. And the humour shines through. Even a dismembered corpse can be funny when the alternative is slitting your own throat.
There are some grotesque characters here for sure. The Queen is especially memorable and I kept trying to think who she might be based upon, certainly nobody I’d want to meet down a dark alley. Kid, on the other hand, is a delight. She’s a youngster and she still sees the world with a young person’s eyes – she never gives in, never gives up hope. Dolly stands out among the Sharks – this is a damaged woman indeed and I really liked how the author presents her. Dolly is almost a robot but, for Kid, just occasionally, Dolly remembers ever so slightly how to smile.
I don’t know if K.S. Merbeth will treat us to another novel set in this universe but I really hope so. It’s such a fun adventure but the characters are the stars, even when they’re at their most despicable. There is nothing heroic about the Sharks – they can’t afford to be selfless if they want to survive – but I’d welcome the chance to get to know them better. From a safe distance. There is a glut of post-apocalyptic thrillers out there at the moment but Bite is one that stands out well and truly from the crowd.