It started with the Storms.
The world got too hot too fast. The weather wrecked Hell on man’s shiny, pretty civilization. With the heat and wet came bugs, with bugs came new diseases, and man’s numbers and sanity dwindled.
The survivors reformed governments like petty shadows of the world’s old empires. They sought answers and justifications, they sought redemption for what they perceived as man’s holy smiting.
Welcome to the Arizona Reformed Theocracy, otherwise called The Zona.
Here the Church rules with power absolute. The laws are simple, all sin is punished swiftly. Preachers enforce the Church’s words like old West lawmen.
But what happens when a Preacher refuses to kill? What happens when men of honor take a stand against their rulers?
As I was reading this book, the one thought that kept going through my head was, “Hey look, Ann and I kinda talked about this very setting already.”
Like the blurb says, the Church has taken over (again). The setting had a very Dark Ages/early Medieval feel to it. It was like hopping into the Wayback Machine and ending up in a future just like the past; you know, where “separation between church and state” wasn’t even a figment of someone’s imagination. (Only instead of farm-able land like they had in Medieval times, this land is dusty, dry, and water-less. In other words, bleak and depressing on a number of levels.)
The book was a little creepy. And disturbing. Mostly because I think it could actually happen. I mean, at one point, one of the characters says something along the lines of, “We were tired and hungry, and the Church gave us food and beds so we wouldn’t have to eat people or die in the desert. In return, we did whatever the hell they told us to do.” (Note: not an exact quote.)
This, I think, is true–when people are scared, feel threatened, or otherwise don’t understand why something is happening, a good many of them will look to someone else to provide what they’re looking for. A lot of people turn to religion and the Church for that, don’t they?
Yeah, exactly. That’s why this book alarms me. (Of course, another good many of them will turn into violent, lawless bastards, but hey, it’s part of human nature to lash out.)
Anyway. So after the apocalypse, when the government didn’t re-form and the United States was leader-less and more than a little disorganized and lost, the Church stepped in and took over. The terms that are used in the book, like “Preacher,” “Goodman,” and “Goodwife,” had a very Puritan feel to it (by this I mean the early American Puritans of the 17th/early 18th centuries). (But maybe The Witch of Blackbird Pond has just stuck with me all these years.)
(Oh, total side note: in the book, the apocalypse is caused by storms, tsunamis, earthquakes, and…a pole shift…? In any case, it was like the Great Flood, but on steroids.)
The book centers around Lead (whose name is actually Leonard), a Preacher who falls on the wrong side of the Church when he lets his “mark,” ex-Preacher Terence Wood, escape. Terence actually manages to change Lead’s mind about the Church and its motivations, and Lead follows Terence into hiding, since now they’re both fugitives.
As heretic outlaws, they’re important enough to be chased by a Crusader, Eliphaz, a rather unpleasant man who’s way too focused on all that anger he’s got bottled up inside. (This is probably why psychologists keep saying you shouldn’t keep your emotions locked inside, hey?)
Eliphaz is a mean, trigger happy asshat. He’s also ruthless and will stop at nothing to convert Lead and Terence by the “rope” (bringing them back to the Church to be put in Purgatory, which is an actual place), or the “blanket” (death by gunshot). I’m pretty sure Eliphaz would prefer to convert them by blanket. I’m also pretty sure that Lead and Terence would prefer to not be converted at all. But you know, cross purposes and all that.
While the book was dreary, a little depressing, and more than a little scary (thanks to that religion scenario), I liked it for the most part. There was some awkward writing and clunky sentences–usually because of comma splices–but on the whole was decently written. I did find that it took a couple of chapters to get moving, but once I got into it the story moved along nicely.