I’ve been a little absent from my blog this past week for a few reasons. One being the holiday hangover I’ve been nursing for the past forever, and the second reason being Ruin, a fantastic post-apocalyptic thriller by indie author, Harry Manners.
As any good reviewer should do, I will preface this review by saying I was offered Ruin for free in exchange for a review, but instead chose to buy the book. The author’s blurb got me, hook, line and sinker, so I knew I wasn’t wasting my time. It was also cheaper than a beer, and books usually go down a lot better for me anyway. Moreover, I believe a truly honest review can only happen when I have my hardly-earned money on the table. It allows me to piss on an author’s work without feeling too terrible about myself afterwards.
SO, without further adieu, here’s the review:
Harry Manners’ Ruin is set in the UK, forty years from now, in a world that is only a generation removed from a mysterious and terrible end that no one has been able to comprehend (I won’t spoil it!). After years of terrible hardship and soul-crushing decisions made by bad, good and downright normal people, pockets of survivors merge into small communities and try to regain some of what was lost in the not-so-distant past. Our story picks up during a time in which, after years of growing prosperity, life in the downtrodden United Kingdom takes a serious turn for the worse.
Starvation threatens the town of New Canterbury, which is the primary setting in which Ruin takes place. The crops have withered, the game has begun to disappear and, as the reader soon finds out, their dark past comes back to haunt them.
Our main character, Norman Creek, isn’t old enough to know a world before “The End”, but he is chosen to become the next leader of New Canterbury, their saviour and maker of all important decisions. However, he resists his “destiny”, and feels he is unfit to lead and unfit to fill the shoes of the great Alexander – his older mentor and charismatic town leader. Norman was told from a young age that it was his calling to save the world, to bring back the glorious prosperity that reigned before “The End”, and to keep the people of New Canterbury from harm. Alexander reminds Norman of this every chance he gets, as if hearing it enough times would make it true. Norman doesn’t think so, but everyone else in New Canterbury seems to be drinking the kool-aid.
This is one of the strongest themes throughout the book. Norman struggles with his ordained role and hates how people look to him to lead even though he feels entirely unworthy. Ruin depicts his struggles well, shows that he is much more than just your typical heroic protagonist sliding into his role of destiny unscathed. He’s complex and feels helpless to the whims of fate – something I think all of us can relate to at times.
Beyond Norman, all of the other characters bring key elements to the book that wrap into a cohesive, dramatic package that is full of action and the little nuances that makes great fiction great. There is authenticity in his dialogue, nothing cheesy about it, and while at times Manners’ imagery and description can be a bit too flowery for my simple tastes, he really manages to paint a vivid post-apocalyptic world that eats away at you and makes you feel extremely fucking desolate. I felt myself at times praying that a herd of deer would just run through town and a massive feast would present itself and make everyone happy, full and help them just chill the fuck out for once. Instead, they live in fear of an evil that lurks outside their town’s borders, and they scrape by on rotten scraps and stale bread. Just thinking about their situation makes me feel sick to my beer-basted, pizza-laden stomach, and I believe this is the biggest reason why I loved Ruin.
Another fantastic element was the intermittent “Interludes” that explained the first days, months and years after “The End.” I won’t spoil anything, but I believe readers will find these to be some of the best chapters throughout the entire book. Manners ties everything in his two timelines together beautifully, unweaving a tangled web into something that will catch even the most elusive reader. In fact, I kind of hate the guy for doing this so well. A few things caught me by surprise, but I’m kind of a dullard when reading, and I knowingly let the author lull me, so take that for what it’s worth.
Now, while I loved the novel as a whole, I can’t refrain from sharing a few things I disliked. There are several chapters throughout the book that follow a separate story that I believe will be increasingly important in the next instalment of The Ruin Saga. However, this “side story” was not tied together as well as it could have been with the main New Canterbury plot, and I quickly lost interest. I believe the little girl is very important going forward, but Billy and her father were overshadowed entirely by the ongoings of Norman, Alexander and the rest of the messed up gang in New Canterbury. Hopefully this is rectified in the next book!
The score you ask? Well here’s the breakdown. Keep in mind that I value some aspects of literature more than others, so, like any review, take this with a grain of salt:
Writing: 9/10 – Great writer. Stephen King-esque, and I don’t say this lightly because I LOVE King. Bravo.
Characters: 4/5 Solid main characters, a few secondary that I could care less for, but I suppose that’s why they’re secondary.
Plot: 4/5 First three quarters of the book had me completely enthralled. I couldn’t put the damn thing down. Last quarter was less so, but sets the stage for a big upswing in the next novel.
I highly anticipate the next book in The Ruin Saga, and recommend this one as a highly entertaining, inspired read. Manners has set the bar high for my first review, and I can only hope he doesn’t disappoint with his next instalment.