Matador, p/b, Â£7.99/Kindle, Â£4.11, LINK
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I have very mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s very readable, not at all badly-written, with some engaging characters and interesting ideas. On the other hand it has some major lapses of logic and one glaring, silly error.
It’s set in Aberdeenshire in 2050. The world has been transformed by climate change. There’s a seemingly unstoppable plague killing one in ten of the population and women are occasionally giving birth to very strange children.
These childrenâ€”the Lupansâ€”have little in common with their parents. They don’t seem able to use language and they prefer the company of wolves to humans.
Scott Maguire, a lawyer on the run, infected by the plague, is rescued from a suicide attempt by air crash by the Lupans. They recognise him as â€œThe Messengerâ€. Scott will eventually discover why the Lupans must not be destroyedâ€”why they are essential to the survival of the human race.
Linella Sienkiewicz lives in a cottage near a community of refugees from countries made uninhabitable by global warming. The only thing standing between the Lupans, and the government that would like to destroy them is their village. Almost as unpopular with the general population as the Lupans themselves, they face forcible eviction from their homes and internment. She had once been in a relationship with Brigadier Brian Johnson, who had done what he could to protect both the village and the Lupans, but things are getting worse and he can no longer help her.
There’s quite a lot to like here. The Lupans, and the way their society differs from humans, are fascinating. There’s a lot of Native American and aboriginal culture in their oneness with nature, and their use of certain hallucinogenic herbs to achieve a closer connection to the living Earth.
It’s near-future science fiction, crossed with ecological drama and ancient mysticism. While reading I could see how the basic concept and characters would work well as a TV miniseries.
Unfortunately it’s flawed. It’s really difficult to describe these flaws without giving away major plot points. Scott undergoes a sort of past-life regression. In this past life, he rejects the ways of the forest people and chooses to defend his village of sheep farmers by a method that ends in disaster and permanently severs his people’s connection with nature. For some reason, it appears that taking up sheep farming in place of living wild and hunting with the wolves, was humanity’s first step on the rocky road to ruin. Everything changes after this event. Humans learn to kill each otherâ€”hang on, if they didn’t already do that, then why did they need to defend the village against an invading enemy?
I mentioned a silly error. Early on in the book, while Scott lies badly injured in a Lupan hut, Linella â€œrinsed her hands with boiling water, using the heather for a quick surgical scrub.â€ It’s hard to believe an author with Paul Kieniewicz’s scientific credentials (He holds advanced degrees in astronomy and geophysics, and has taught workshops and courses in astronomy, geology, philosophy and the Gaia Theory.) wrote that. Apparently none of his degrees covered the fact that boiling water tends to cause severe pain and damage to human skin.
By the end of the book, things look very bleak for the refugees and the Lupans. So much so that the sudden ceasing of hostilities in the last chapter simply fails to convince.
Matador is a vanity press, set up to help authors self-publish and this book is a classic example of the lack of an editorial eye to help clean up the inconsistencies.
It’s not an awful book, but I have to be honest and say that I have no great desire to read the planned sequel.