It’s Philadelphia post-apocalypse, approximately 2047. The US has been fatally attacked by terrorists, who launched both nuclear and chemical weapons. The novel, first in a trilogy, shows one man’s struggle to cope with this environment, and what happens when he can’t let sleeping dogs (or more appropriately, cats) lie.
Dr Ethan King: Highly intelligent, but wracked by self-doubt, and vacillates quite a lot. Sometimes you want to shake him into making a decision. Sometimes comes across a bit of a wimp, but finds strength as the novel closes.
Liz King: Highly accomplished in her own right, she is the strength of her and Ethan’s marriage. She is socially more conservative, and more pragmatic, but sticks to her guns once her mind is made up.
Arthur King: The Inexorable child taken in by the Kings, he exhibits psychopathic tendencies, showing no remorse for his actions. His arrival fundamentally and permanently changes the King household.
Dr Jim Wilson: King and Wilson are thrown together to help deal with the unfolding medical crisis caused by the attacks, but gradually befriend each other over the next four/five years, to become deep allies.
Lapis Muir: Initially comes across as a bit of a lightweight, she develops into a really important link in Ethan’s investigative chain.
Dr King, our protagonist, actually saw the chemical bomb that hit Philadelphia. The hospital where he works is overwhelmed with A&E cases, necessitating long shifts and hard choices, but it builds strength amongst the staff, and enduring friendships.
There’s a bit of a back story to the attacks, but initially we are given the life of Ethan and Liz King. They are very happily married, hugely successful, and have all the trappings of a well-to-do middle class, but they are unable to have children of their own. This is a huge hole in their lives, but they cope.
One of the results of the chemical weapons was the release of a gas called Obcasus (Latin for “End”), which has a hugely detrimental effect on the foetuses of pregnant women. The gas somehow causes brain damage (we are given a fair bit of scientific background throughout the book, via Ethan, but I’m not going to repeat it here :D).
Children suffering from this irreversible condition are known as “Inexorable”, and they turn into violent, non-empathic, sadistic people, potentially killers. There are various physical characteristics that give them away. The helpless parents usually end up either abandoning them, or getting the situation “resolved” by the government in the Assistance Centres. They seem to have very few rights compared to “normal” people, and are considered extremely dangerous.
One winter evening, Ethan discovers a starving, freezing, near-death Inexorable in his garage, and pitying him takes him home. Liz predictably loses the plot, and demands the child is removed from the house, and brought to be resolved. However, over time, Liz warms to the child and comes to love him, though constantly wary of the very real threat he poses to life, limb, and family pets.
King takes his friend Wilson into his confidence and, while initially horrified and always dubious, he gets the support he needs, in trying to normalise the child. He has seen behavioural patterns other than mindless violence, and this kicks off an investigative process.
This takes Ethan into some dark places, and across some serious bad-news people (both government and not), but despite the doubts he does continue to chip away at the nagging concerns. The investigation spirals out of his control, though h does discover what it is that impacts the children, and who has reasons for not wanting a cure to be found. There IS a potential cure, but Ethan has to make a chilling, horrific decision in order to prove that cure works. No Spoilers!
What I Liked:
- It was a very interesting premise, and by interchanging “Inexorable” with any other permanent condition, it is chilling to see how realistic this could be.
- It was a different take on the post-apocalyptic thing – society still functioned well, albeit after a certain fashion, yet there is a definite Big Brother element in this world.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The scientific/doctoral analyses and descriptions – too many and a little too detailed for someone who does not have a scientific background.
- I didn’t respect Ethan for some of the time. Yes, he was taking risks, especially with the lab testing, but he takes decisions that he patently should not have, he dithered when action was called for, and he excludes his wife from possibly the most important decision of all.
I liked this book. It was a good read, though as noted above a little less on the rationale for the doctor-backup – less is more!. It would be a great holiday read, and the trilogy is set up very well.
Thanks to the author, who sent me a physical copy of the book in return for an honest and objective review.