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S. Elliot Brandis is the type of writer that immediately makes me jealous of his style and strong authorial voice. He has a ridiculously strong command of prose and is utterly methodical in his deliberate word choice, using every word and turn of phrase for maximum impact. Descriptions are lively and on-point, and he's able to crack up the evocative sense of place and nature to 11. He is, without fail, an awesome wordsmith.
IRRADIATED is the first book of an ambitious trilogy. The setting is post-apocalypse Brisbane. The city is a rotting husk, its buildings bearing grimy flood lines thanks to regular flooding. The sun itself is poison, its radiation bombarding the Earth.
As the novel opens, Pearl is thrust into her older sister's arms as the two are forced to flee their underground home. Thirteen years later, the two live in the mountains, with their companions Simon and Josh, foraging for scraps and survival. Pearl is a pink-skinned youth, her skin puckered with sucker caps, like those of an octopus. She is irradiated, as is Josh, whose body bears deformities as well.
While on a trade run, Jade is warned that her sister is in danger. The girl has been having visions in her nightmares, and others have been dreaming about her in return. Jade races back to camp, but is too late. Pearl is missing.
Brandis has fashioned an interesting cross-blend of science fiction and spaghetti western. Although we don't learn much about the history of the wastelands his characters inhabit (what was the nature of the apocalypse - nuclear warfare, climate change, or some other mysterious societal collapse?), it's a minor caveat. We don't need to know, really, and the characters and their place in this altered, unfriendly environment is enough to satisfy in situ.
His central heroine, Jade, is a strong, capable actor, as is Pearl. I don't want to spoil much, but I will say there is a wonderfully defining moment when Pearl, being tortured by her captors, summons up a beautiful amount of courage and strength to call bullshit on the central villain's motivations. The Queen has abducted Pearl, with designs on using her dream-visions, in an effort to rid the world of the irradiated. Pearl realizes she is a weapon more than anything else, and dismantles The Queen's egotistical savior ramblings for the trite musings of hatred and prejudice that they truly are. It's a brilliant scene.
Brandis is clearly in his element with the post-apocalyptic genre, and he nimbly maneuvers through the ruins of Brisbane. Like Jade, he knows this dangerous terrain well. The story itself recalls other apocalyptic greats, and shares many similar thematic resonances of works like THE STAND and SWAN SONG, as well as the recent PlayStation 3 video-game THE LAST OF US. The conflict between the tunnel-dwelling remnants of humanity, and their fear of the irradiated may remind readers of HG Well's infamous morlocks, although Brandis gives them a run for their money with his frightening, and fascinating, Shadows. If you enjoyed any of these other similar works, IRRADIATED will fit comfortably in your reading list and is well worth the time.
The second book, DEGENERATED, is expected to release in July, with ABERRATED following in December.