I received Defender in exchange for an honest review.
I was excited to read this debut as the author lives quite local to me, something I don’t come across often. But, in the end, I took a while to get round to it and when I finally did, it didn’t blow me away. Maybe someone from Birmingham in the UK just wasn’t able to conjure the dry, empty landscape of a post-apocalyptic Texas which I wanted. Or maybe, it’s to do with the plot. Either way, I know this book worked for a lot of people, but I struggled to connect with it the way I’d hoped to.
The premise of this novel is great – a blend of your typical post-apocalyptic theme with a touch of some more supernatural science fiction thrown in. It’s an ambitious tale, touching on themes of sanity, grief and survival.
In Defender, instead of your regular nuclear war or governmental melt-down, the world has fallen apart because normal people started doing abnormal things because the voices in their heads told them to. They turned on their friends and family, and it caused chaos.
This novel is set a few years after the initial incident; as society is has unravelled, everyone has to fend for themselves. We meet Pilgrim, a lone traveller who comes across Lacey at the roadside and agrees to give her a lift to find her sister. 16-year-old Lacey has lived a sheltered life the past few years and is unaffected by the voices, while Pilgrim has been on the road and regularly converses with ‘Voice’, a dry, witty and deprecating voice which resides in his mind. I really enjoyed the characters in this novel – the slowly developing friendship between Pilgrim and Lacey and, later, Alex, was well-written and the way the three formed an alliance and looked after each other was touching.
On their journey, they come up against numerous trials and villains and, whilst the villains were well-drawn as well, I just couldn’t quite believe in them. It felt a little too much like everyone was trying to kill the protagonists, and the plot meandered with little reasoning behind it. I would have loved to have read more about the Voices, the history of the situation and the meaning behind them, but perhaps this features more in the next books in the series. When I requested this novel a while before its release, I actually thought it was a standalone which I would have preferred. Perhaps this novel is really just setting up for the following three in the quadrilogy, but I’m still undecided whether I’ll read on to find out.
There is lots to enjoy in this novel – a great premise, some atmospheric prose and good character development make this a worthy debut, and I’m sure this author could do great things in the future. I just don’t think she’s hit her peak just yet.