Century | 2020 (16 June) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book
When relationship trouble means that Frank McCray can no longer bear to live alone in his house in paradise, his sister Kate Holland and her husband Dan are thrilled to move in. They needed to do something drastic to save their own marriage. It would not survive much longer on the California coast. And so they switch Venice Beach for the isolated, high-end, high-tech eco-community of Greenloop in the foothills of Mount Rainier in Washington State. The small hamlet was founded by high-tech CEO Tony Durant, who also lives there with his wife. The latest gadgets are installed in the houses and supplies are brought in by drone or driverless vehicle. But they are surrounded by the most gorgeous scenery, the perfect environment to thrive in away from the ratrace. And, besides, Seattle, is only a couple of hours away. It is the best of both worlds and Kate Holland loves it, recording her happiness and excitement in a journal for her therapist.
All is perfect. Until, just a few days after she and Dan move in, Mount Rainier erupts. Greenloop survives that but can it survive whatever it is that has lived undetected in the mountains and forests for thousands of years, that has now been driven down off the mountain, wild and hungry.
Max Brooks is a master of survival horror. In World War Z mankind had to survive a plague of zombies. Now, it’s the turn of a small isolated community in an increasingly wintry wilderness to survive an onslaught of Big Foot (one can’t help but wonder if the plural would be Big Foots or Big Feet…). I love this sort of thriller and so Devolution is irresistible. There’s also more to it than you might have thought from the premise.
This novel is as much about people and how they get along and manage together as it is about invading, murderous Big Foot apes. And also as time goes on thought is given to these apes. Can they be blamed for their behaviour? They want to survive every bit as much as the humans do. This discussion develops along with the action in a way that I found really interesting.
The majority of the book comprises Kate’s journal entries. She introduces us to the other misfits who have ended up in this strangest of communities, which seems to have been built on the premise that the distant wilderness is safe if you can fly in your groceries and control your house lights with your smartphone. These are fascinating people. We also get to know more about Kate’s relationship with her husband. This remains obscured by shadows. Clearly something has happened that has altered Dan in some way and Kate spends much of her time studying the effects of this place and its people, especially the curious Mostar, on Dan.
Scattered throughout the book are interviews (by our author persona) with Kate’s brother and the senior ranger Jennifer Schell who discovered Kate’s journal in the ruins of Greenloop. The author throughout has to question whether any of this is true. I loved this structure. It’s done brilliantly and really ramps up the tension, which does get very high indeed.
I enjoyed the idea that mankind can regress when in the wild, that the wild can’t be tamed, and, perhaps, that humans are no different from the sasquatch in all the ways that matter. Ultimately, though, Devolution is a horror thriller and it is a thoroughly exciting one. I may never camp in the wilds again.