Their families dead from the pandemic SitkaAZ13, known as Pest, 15-year-old cheerleader Clare and 13-year-old chess club member Jem are thrown together. They realize that, if either of them wishes to reach adulthood, they must find a cure. A shadowy adult broadcasting on the radio to all orphaned children promises just that — to cure children once they grow into Pest, then to feed them and to care for them.
Or does this adult have something else in mind?
Against a hostile landscape of rotting cities and of a countryside infected by corpses and roamed by voracious diseased survivors, Jem and Clare make their bid for life and, with their group of fellow child-travelers growing, embark on a journey to find the cure. But they are hampered by the knowledge that everything in this new child-led world had become suspect — adults, alliances, trust, hope. But perhaps friendship has its own kind of healing power.
I absolutely loved the sound of this book, particularly the mentions in the blurb of friendship and very different teenagers being thrown together in the face of such adversity. I’d not long read a grown up post pandemic novel and loved it (Station Eleven) so was eager to read another such title.
The book primarily follows Clare, she’s fifteen years old and all too close to adulthood – the time when Pest will catch up with her (it catches up with everyone eventually you see). To begin with she’s on her own, remembering the demises of those closest to her and trying to work out how to exist in this new world. This beginning is brilliantly claustrophobic – I loved the way that Clare doesn’t fall to pieces or turn into some super strong survivalist. Instead she falls somewhere between the two, having moments where she shuts down and moments where she manages to work out a next step to take. Then, slowly but surely she meets others – Jem first and then other little groups of children – and they begin to work together both to survive and to try and find the cure being promised to them. For me the book really began to shine once Clare was with the other children.
The book also follows the Master, the voice in the radio promising a cure to all children who are hearing his broadcast. Very quickly we realise there is something seriously weird about this man, this only increases as the book progresses. I found that when it became a Master chapter I was willing it to end quickly – there was something so incredibly unsettling about him. If anything this was the part of the book I enjoyed least, whilst I know there is a need for peril I’m not sure the true level of wrongness about him was really necessary within the book.
One element of the book that did surprise me was the presence of the Cured – adults who, when the pandemic first broke out, received a supposed cure that left them in a zombie-esque state. I enjoyed the dilemmas that the Cured brought to the young people, but at the same time felt like a number of the scenarios were quite familiar to me.
Whilst I generally enjoyed this book it didn’t do a brilliant job of capturing my attention. It took me over two weeks to read it – by my standards this is virtually glacial. I found I could only read it in smallish chunks, maybe to do with my intense dislike of the Master, and then once I’d put it down there was no great pull to pick it back up. Interestingly there was never any question of my not finishing the book – there was obviously something hooking me to it, I think this was the central focus on Clare and the other children. I did genuinely care about them to some extent.
I’m sad that this isn’t a book I’ll be rushing to revisit or to recommend, though I’m sure there will be lots of readers who’ll feel entirely differently about it (Goodreads already has a number of glowing 5 star reviews of this book).
The Garden of Darkness is published by Ravenstone. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.