DEFENDER By G X Todd
Headline Books, s/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
Seven years ago, the world changed irrevocably. Much of the earth’s population was wiped out when they started hearing voices in their heads – insidious voices that wheedled, cajoled and encouraged them to kill themselves and each other. Now, the few survivors are mainly divided into two groups – those that hear voices, and those that don’t.
In western Texas, a loner named Pilgrim mounts his motorbike and rides through the desert, avoiding others and fighting daily to stay alive until he comes across Lacey, a sixteen-year-old girl sitting at a lemonade stand. He hears a voice, but his does not tell him to kill. It persuades him to stop to get a lemonade, and he soon finds his solitary world changing. Meanwhile, tales abound of the Flitting Man, a mysterious figure who gathers up those who hear voices, while killing all others. It’s inevitable this would be compared to Steven King’s The Stand, but this excellent debut from Todd should be judged on its own merits, and it has a great many of those. The characters are all well-thought out, complex and the tension builds superbly throughout the book, drawing to a thrilling conclusion. Violence and torture abound in this dystopian future, with the protagonists pushed into increasingly unpleasant situations. Will Lacey and Pilgrim survive? Who is the Flitting Man, and what does he want? Where did the voices come from, and what do they want?