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WANTED: Men and women willing to drive through the valley of the shadow of death.
The world’s population has been decimated by the Change, a chain reaction of events triggered by global warming. In Europe, governments have fallen, cities have crumbled and the wheels of production have ground to a halt. The Alps region, containing most of the continent’s remaining fresh water, has become a closed state with heavily fortified borders. Survivors cling on by trading through the Runners, truck drivers who deliver cargo and take a percentage. Amid the ruins of central Germany, two Runners, Cassady and Ghazi, are called on to deliver medical supplies to a research base deep in the Italian desert, where scientists claim to be building a machine that could reverse the effects of the Change. Joining the pair is a ragtag collection of drivers, all of whom have something to prove. Standing in their way are starving nomads, crumbling cities, hostile weather and a rogue state hell-bent on the convoy’s destruction. And there’s another problem: Cassady is close to losing his nerve.
I received a free, advanced reading copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Grant Price and Cosmic Egg Books for the reading & reviewing opportunity.
Rating: 4.25 stars
“Perhaps that was the point anyway: to be prepared to sacrifice oneself in service of something greater.”
This novel really took me by surprise. From the synopsis, I was anticipating the apocalyptic, dystopian story that we’ve all grown fairly familiar with. You know the one: the state of Earth has declined so badly that vegetation is scarce, people are starving, and surviving is all you have to look forward to. And really, you do certainly get those characteristics in this book. But you also get a lot more, too.
Dystopian novels can only go one of two ways for me: poorly, or wonderfully. I often find the set-ups to be unbelievable or hard to grasp and there tends to be a lot of action that doesn’t necessarily add to the plot of the story and is instead there to take up space. With By the Feet of Men, neither of those things were a problem. First off, the author, Price, doesn’t bother with explaining much about the deterioration of the planet. Readers dive right into the mayhem and don’t spend a bunch of time learning how the characters got to where they are. No, Price dived right in and though at first I did wonder if I was going to get an explanation about the state of the world, I later decided that I was glad that he hadn’t forced one on me. There are enough details throughout the novel that you can piece together fairly well a decent amount for yourself, and the rest is left to interpretation. I didn’t have to force myself to believe in a weird circumstance to follow the rest of the story. It was nice.
Second, there is a lot of action in this, but it always felt important. The eight runners on the mission to reach the base of scientists are all vital to the way the story plays out, and each instance of violence or vehicle chases add to their stories in a way I can’t necessarily explain without spoiling bits of the book. Nevertheless, I can tire of action-packed novels quickly, but I didn’t with this one.
The characters were very well planned and written. Though the book mostly focused on Cassady and Ghazi, but the third person POV allowed the 6 others to play an important role as well and I found myself invested in all of their stories. I usually feel like it can take a long time in a book for an author to fully develop the characters, but through the life or death situations that the runners are put into, a reader can quickly learn who each really is without needing to necessarily know how they got to be who they are. Hearst was fierce, unwavering, and strong. Katarina was the peacemaker; kind and wise. Victor was the arrogant but brave youngster. Tagawa was calculated, smart, and cool-headed. I could go on and on for each of them, but it just goes to show how well they were developed through their journey without the author ever having to say that they were these things. They simply radiated their characteristics in a plain-to-see way.
My favorite thing about the entire novel is that, as earlier mentioned, it’s about more than just their dystopian setting and at-hand mission. There is a lot of talking about the meanings of life and in the state that they are in, it’s important for them to decide whether they want to keep surviving or give up altogether.
“Conscious is its own reward.”
Ghazi is deeply spiritual in his beliefs, though not necessarily in the religious ways we’ve often come to recognize spiritually in modern days. Many members of the group find that there is purpose to life, while some are questioning whether or not they are ready to give up the fight. I loved that this story had so much below its surface. It made the hours that the runners rode in their vehicles feel filled with importance.
Overall, I found the story to be extremely intriguing. The first part of the book (about 30-40 min in) was a bit slow for me because the characters were unfamiliar and I was unsure of what direction the novel was going in. The runners weren’t quite as fascinating until the convoy journey began. However, part two presented me with a much more fast-paced timeline and I was completely enraptured all the way to the end! I read the whole book in two sittings over a weekend and really enjoyed it. If you’re a dystopian fan and you enjoy new spins on old tales, I’d recommend this to you!