I’ve been away from here for a week or two now. No two ways about it, I was going through a bit of a slump and the thoughts of writing anything felt like a chore rather than something enjoyable. But, I’m back. And back with a great new book recommendation too!
Last Ones Left Alive is the debut novel from Sarah Davis-Goff, one half of the team behind Ireland’s Tramp Press, an independent publishing house specialising in Irish fiction, based in Dublin. Within its pages, Ireland has fallen victim to a devastating plague know as the Skrake. Anyone bitten is infected with the deadly virus, which blackens their skin and brings on an agonisingly painful death, before they eventually reanimate with an unquenchable bloodlust.
On a remote, deserted island off the coast of the country, Orpen lives out her days with her mother, her quasi-stepmother Maeve and their dog Danger. Being too young to remember how the world was before, Orpen only knows about life on the island, where she trains daily in order to be prepared to defend herself should anything happen to her protectors. All the while, she finds snippets of information from old newspapers produced during the early days of the outbreak about a mysterious group known as Banshees, and tries to discern why exactly her mother and Maeve fiercely warn her everyday to avoid men at all costs should she encounter any.
When Maeve is bitten by a Skrake and begins a slow journey to death, Orpen has no choice but to travel to the mainland in search of help, and the fabled Phoenix City, which her mother and Maeve refused to tell her anything about. Orpen must put her training to use if she is to find a cure for Maeve to keep her alive. She must also keep herself alive in a country overrun by not just monsters, but other survivors who could pose a threat.
I love a good apocalyptic/dystopian story, and I found this one particularly unique, as it’s not often you find many that are set in Ireland – or if you have, I haven’t encountered them. I liked the structure of the novel. We follow the story through alternating chapters, detailing the events of the present as they happen and events in the past through flashback, that give insight into Orpen’s upbringing and what happens to ultimately make her leave the island in search of help.
I found the dynamic between Orpen and Maeve an interesting one. She’s not her mother, nor does Orpen see her as such. There is no question that they care for each other, but they often clash with each other. Orpen’s mother offered the more nurturing, loving side of her upbringing, but it is Maeve who is tough on her and has taken on the brunt of training her, intent on ensuring she can defend herself when the time comes. It’s a very interesting dynamic through this story.
The Skrake are vividly described and are an effective antagonist. They are essentially zombies, but the way Davis-Goff writes them, you feel like this is a somewhat fresh take on a well worn genre. The fact that it is established from the start just how difficult it is to kill one adds to the tension every time one is encountered.
As a lead character, Orpen is likeable, and she is interesting in one big way in particular – she essentially encounters the horrors of the new world just as we do, despite having lived for years through the plague. It helps you relate to her more and empathise with her. She kind of reminded me of two other strong female characters: Katniss Everdeen and Wonder Woman. Just like Katniss, she is raised to be a survivor, and just like Wonder Woman, she is compelled to leave the only home she has ever known to experience the world outside.
Another interesting thing about this book as that the characters are almost all female, but you would never notice because the author doesn’t go out of her way to beat you over the head with it. The woman are resourceful, survivors, fighters, carers and all without a single mention of them being women, or needing the help of a man. The story just flows, as it should, and you don’t even realise that there is only a single male character for the most part. It’s refreshing to read!
I’d recommend giving Last Ones Left Alive a look in, not just because it’s a great read, but also because there is potential for a sequel and the movie rights have already been snapped up, so an adaptation is on its way! Do yourself a favour and get ahead of the game now!
Or have you read this one already? I’d love to hear your thoughts as always! Drop me a comment below!