Happy belated Thanksgiving to all my American followers! I hope your turkey was delicious and your pie was laden with whipped cream.
I had a pretty relaxing weekend, I did make a pumpkin cheesecake which was delicious, even if the chocolate turkey I drew on top looked a little… odd.
So this review is brought to you today by my weird cheesecake turkey (it is spoiler-free up until my spoiler line below…the review that is, not the turkey). Onwards!
Sarah Davis-Goff is an Irish writer who has been published in the Irish Times, the Guardian, and LitHub. The book I am reviewing today, Last Ones Left Alive, is her debut novel. On top of her writing, she is also the cofounder of Tramp Press, a publishing house.
Raised by her mother and Maeve on Slanbeg, an island off the west coast of Ireland, Orpen has a childhood of love and stories by the fireside. But the stories grow darker, and the training begins. Ireland has been devoured by a ravening menace known as the skrake, and though Slanbeg is safe for now, the women must always be ready to run, or to fight.– Excerpt from the Amazon landing page
The novel opens with the protagonist, Orpen, pushing a dying Maeve in a wheelbarrow. As she navigates the ruined cities and barren roads of Ireland, looking for other survivors or a cure, Orpen is tested to her limits. Her one hope is to find the last remaining city, rumoured to be guarded by a mysterious army called the Banshees.
Absolutely amazing… a cross between The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Walking DeadEoin Colfer
You’ll be terrified, fascinated and above all, uplifted by Orpen – a heroine to rival Philip Pullman’s Lyra or The Passage‘s AmyStylist
One thing I don’t like in novels that deal with alternate futures/timelines/worlds, is when the pacing and story gets bogged down with exposition. A good novel tells the reader just enough to build the world, but not too much that the reader drowns in it.
Davis-Goff achieves this balance perfectly in The Ones Left Alive, in my opinion. Orpen, the protagonist, was born after the “Emergency” so only has limited knowledge as to what happened and to current world events — which means the reader has that same limited knowledge. I really enjoyed just being immersed in the story and Orpen’s journey immediately, rather than having to “catch-up” on a bunch of back story.
I loved the characters, especially bad-ass Orpen, though I found having a dog named Danger led to some confusing sentences that I had to re-read. “Danger came out of the bushes.” Wait — what!? Oh, just the dog.
The story alternates between present-day Orpen travelling through the skrake-ridden Irish countryside and her memories of growing up on a nearby coastal island with her two moms, learning to fight and survive.
Overall, it was a fast-paced adventure filled with gory fight scenes, heart-breaking scenes from Orpen’s childhood, and a rather satisfying end. In essence, it is a zombie story, which begs the question — does it stand out?
I suppose the skrake are pretty standard, when it comes to zombie lore. I think the strength of this debut novel comes from its characters — especially Orpen’s savageness — and the well-written fight scenes. The novel also finished with a powerful punch, I go into why I like it so much below the spoiler-line so only read it if you are finished the book or don’t care about having it spoiled.
x P.L. McMillan
Don’t go any further unless you want to read spoilers!
In the novel, Orpen is focussed on finding a surviving city supposedly guarded by a group called the Banshees. It is eventually revealed that her two moms were a part of the Banshees and fled the city after one mom became pregnant. The moms teach Orpen the special Banshee fighting style, which helps her survive when she goes to the mainland.
She eventually meets the Banshees during an epic battle on a beach, as she fights against a horde of skrake. Orpen gets bitten on the ear, which usually means death, except a Banshee cuts off her ear to save her. This aligns with the fact her least favourite mom, Maeve, was missing an ear, making the whole tale come full circle. I also felt like it almost matched up with Amazonian mythology, of the powerful female warriors who cut off their dominant breast so it wouldn’t get in the way of their archery.
Either way, it was a satisfying turn of events, especially because she grew to have an appreciation for Meave, who she thought was too hard, too mean, only to become like her — including losing an ear.