Note: this review is for book five in a series, and will no doubt contain spoilers
Regular readers of this site will know that both my husband and I are ardent fans of Michael Grant’s Gone series. And the recently released Fear, the penultimate volume in the sextet, is quite possibly my favourite outing in this excellent series yet.
It’s been more than a year since the adults in Perdido (“Lost”) Beach vanished, leaving the town’s youth to fend for themselves. What follows is a survival scenario worthy of The Lord of the Flies, and Grant continuously pushes it into ever more disconcerting, discomforting territories. There’s the brutality involved in forging an existence in a landscape that no longer obeys the natural laws the youth are used to; there’s the ongoing struggle for power, and for some semblance of democracy; there’s the looming threat of a greater evil that lurks at the boundaries of their world.
And now there’s the threat of utter darkness.
And it’s this, more than anything that strikes fear into the heart of the survivors. Think the utter terror involved in John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, for example: a threat that would otherwise be manageable in a sighted world becomes impossible in a world where sight is taken away. Humans, after all, are so very reliant on sight—it’s arguably our strongest sense and one that we need for our very survival. Basic tasks such preparing food, moving around, finding somewhere to sleep, or keeping safe from others, are almost insurmountable without it. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that so many of us are afraid of the dark, particularly in our youth.
And when it comes to Grant’s Fear, it’s the youth we’re talking about.
When the dome that covers what was once Perdido Beach begins to darken, the kids know that it’s only a matter of time before they’re thrust into darkness and the tentative of civilisation they’ve worked so hard to build is swept away.
Fear is also palpable not only in the children’s fear of the dark, but also in what that fear means: it’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of what our imaginations can conjure. There’s some truth to that old adage about not showing a monster’s face in a film because whatever we can imagine will be so much worse than whatever the set designer can come up with. Grant uses this to extraordinary effect with the vicious character of Penny, who can conjure up oh-so-real illusions–both good and bad, but with a clear preference for the horrific. Everyone is constantly reminded that their fear is all in their heads, but that’s what makes it so awful.
Fear of these personal demons marks a turning point for a number of the characters, and with Fear Grant positions the series for what can only be a tremendous conclusion.
New characters fight for power, undermining the delicate political systems; others, such as Astrid the “Genius” change substantially, with survival at all odds at the top of their agenda. Others again, those (unnamed!) characters) known for their cruelty and ends-justifies-the-means outlooks, are allowed to reign if it means possible survival in the face of the darkness to come. And somehow, Grant manages to use their newfound weakness to paint them in a surprisingly sympathetic light.
Where some characters continue to turn towards the darkness or to struggle with their inner demons, others, such as Quinn, who at the beginning of the series was known for his cowardice, continue to prove themselves in this world. Edilio, too, a bad-boy illegal, as he paints himself, remains a steadfast force for good. As has been the case throughout the series, it’s the characters who don’t have special X-Men like powers who seem most at ease with their new existence and most able to succeed against the odds. And often, these are the very characters who are so often done away with in the early scenes of a horror film or novel—the minorities, the trangressors, the outcasts.
Fear also gives us a glimpse of what’s beyond the dome, and while I don’t want to give too much away here, I’m hotly anticipating what comes of this in the final volume of this consistently excellent series.
With thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont Australia for the review copy
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The Fear book trailer: