A deadly influenza pandemic. An escaped convict.
A single mother desperate to protect her only child. Dystopic fiction at its best!
This is me reading outside of my comfort zone again – no, wait, I think apocalyptic/dystopic fiction may actually be something I like. The Stand, The Road, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Clockwork Orange, The Handmaid’s Tale…. yeah, okay, I really like this genre just fine. And I like it even more after reading Mark Campbell’s new book, Penitence.
Set in the near future, Penitence opens with a scene from anyone’s worst nightmare: a poultry farm worker is exposed to a new strain of avian flu, one that can jump species. It is fast moving, fast acting and deadly! Within a week the nation is in crisis, although the government does a fine job of lying to the people about the severity of the outbreak. Marshall Law is declared and the nation goes into panic mode. Well, almost the entire nation. A population that is forgotten resides within the prison walls. It is here that we meet Teddy Sanders, a lifer who stays alive by sticking to his routines and keeping his head down low. For Teddy, whatever is happening on the other side of the prison walls couldn’t be nearly as bad as what is happening on the inside. As chaos erupts in the prison. with an unprecedented mortality rate wiping out both prisoners and guards, Teddy realizes he has to make an escape or die of thirst and starvation. In an epic “battle” scene, Teddy fights his way to freedom only to discover a world that has collapsed. For Teddy, survival is second nature but is he willing to do anything to survive in this new world order?
From the moment I began reading until the very last page, the action never stopped. With the exception of the beginning scenario, Penitence is told exclusively through the eyes of Teddy Sanders: a killer, bank robber and convict. We learn of his fears, regrets, hatreds, disgust, and, ultimately his love. Sanders is one of the best drawn anti-heroes that I have come across since The Man in McCarthy’s, The Road. His story is heartbreaking and compelling, violent and good-hearted and, ultimately hopeful.
Campbell has worked inside of the US prison system and his experience shows throughout the book. The prison scenes are graphically drawn, horrendous, horrifying and action-packed. I’m not sure I’ve ever read of a prison scenario this well told. However, what I loved best about the book happens after Teddy leaves the prison. In a world that is dying, this section of the book could quite dark and depressing – and it is – but Teddy manages to find a woman and her son and the interaction between these characters is golden. Their relationship will rip your heart out and leaving it on the ground. It is stunningly beautiful.
I also appreciated Campbell’s knowledge of FEMA and Homeland Security. He not only gets their “official” line correct, he creates a world that is very much as most political analysts have described the future – FEMA and DHS are the new world order and Marshall Law strips away every last one of your perceived rights. Campbell could have taken this into a realm similar to King’s The Stand, where virtually no one is left alive and those who are alive are divided into Good vs Evil. Instead, this world is full of gray areas – good people doing bad things; bad people doing good things and a whole lot of government enforcers keeping “the peace” at any cost. Campbell, however, keeps an underlying feeling, just a tremor at times, of hope. In a world that is dead and dying, rather than being left depressed at the end of this book, I felt hopeful. The ending is absolutely amazing and it is worth reading the entire book just to get to the final scene. I shouted, “I want MORE,” and I was thrilled to discover that there is at least one more book to come – HURRAY!
I wholeheartedly recommend this book regardless of the genres in which you normally hang. It is a book for the masses but especially for those who love speculative fiction, dystopic fiction and post-apocalyptic tales. If I could give this book 10 stars I would! Now go… find your copy here and read it.