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Guardians Of The Phoenix by Eric Brown book review

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Rising from the ashes

It’s the end of the world as we’ve known it and, on a desiccated Earth where the seas have dried up and species after species has gone extinct, a few human survivors attempt to keep going. In Paris, for example, Elise can remember the world before the great Breakdown, but for her young carer Paul, accustomed to scrambling around the ruined city hunting for food, this is just how life is.

Expanded from a short story written for an anthology of apocalypse-themed fiction, Guardians Of The Phoenix has a set-up that’s ominously close to SF-generic. Get just a few pages into the novel, however, and this ceases to matter.

In great part, that’s because Eric Brown spins a terrific yarn. Moreover, switching between a comparatively small number of viewpoints – necessarily so, because so few people are left alive in a vision of the future where even Scandinavia has been scorched to desert – there are cliffhangers aplenty to keep you reading just one more chapter.

However, there’s more to the novel than employing a trick beloved of Dan Brown. Although a couple of the minor characters are sketchily drawn, this is at root a book about what people will (or won’t) do to survive. At times, it’s all too believable. To adapt Brian Aldiss’s phrase, there’s nothing too cosy about the more gruesome scenes of catastrophe here. It helps to have a strong stomach for scenes of cannibalism when the psychotic Hans is around.

Not that Brown’s vision is entirely bleak. The clue is in the title and a dénouement that leaves plenty of space for a sequel. Our one criticism is that at times the writing seems rushed and sketchy, although this may be (at least in part) by design as Brown conjures up breathless chase narratives.

James Blackwell

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