Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Alone: Chasers by James Phelan
Jesse is on a school trip in New York when his subway carriage is rocked by an explosion. When he and three friends crawl out of the wreckage they discover a city in chaos. Streets are deserted. Buildings are in ruins. And the only other survivors are infected with a virus that turns them into horrifying predators...
Chasers is very much on the upper spectrum of our reviews on #u14so for July. I'd recommend it straight off for readers who enjoyed Charlie Higson's The Dead/The Enemy.
It is written by James Phelan who is an Australian author. I checked out his site and love that it so active with lots of information about everything else he's done and it gives you an idea of who he is, what his interests are and what he has planned for the future.
You're wondering why I'm talking about James instead of reviewing the book? Well, I wanted to know who this guy was who wrote this book that kept me gripped for several hours whilst I read it. I could not put this book down. It went with me to the kitchen, the lounge, the dining room. I was so involved in Jesse's story of survival that nothing else really mattered to me, including making Sunday roast for Mark and the little dog.
Firstly, I found Chasers extremely cinematic. It opens with Jesse and his friends on the Subway in New York. They are all chatting and keeping an eye on a group of slightly dodgy looking gangsters in the same carriage as them. Jesse is from Australia, he's one of the younger UN Ambassadors and they are all en route to Ground Zero after meeting at the main UN offices.
With Jesse we have Dave, his American friend, the solid, dependable one, Anna, the English girl whom Jesse really quite likes and Mini, a Taiwanese girl, who is the random out there one who does and says crazy things. They are standing, chatting, as the train ratchets along when an explosion rocks the tunnel and everything goes dark.
Jesse wakes up about an hour later and discovers that its only the four of them from the coach that's survived. They make their way above ground and their relief is immense when they see that there are other survivors. But these survivors do seem friendly. In fact, they seem distant and odd. And when they start chasing Jesse and his friend, the kids realise these survivors are hostile and they've somehow been changed by whatever it was that happened to cause the explosion. Oh, and to crown matters, making it all worse, is the fact that several buildings have been destroyed and that some are still busy collapsing in and around New York and Manhattan.
The "chasers" soon show that they are suffering from some kind of uncontrollable thirst. They thirst for water and blood and spend hours standing by the Hudson river drinking water and staring into the distance. When they find anyone hurt and bleeding, they drink from them too.
As I said, it started in a supremely cinematic fashion and this impression continues throughout the novel. Jesse and his friends take shelter in one of the big Manhattan landmark buildings and they barricade themselves in on the top floor to make sure that they have a 360 degree view of what was happening all around them. They go through the apartments in the building and find food, gas, guns, MP3 players and everything else you may need to sit out an event of apocalyptic scale. There is no TV, no radio, nothing. All they can see are the chasers down below and nothing else, apart from the occasional building burning / collapsing.
The tension flags quite dramatically in this bit as the group settle in and try and make sense of what's going on. They have ice cream feasts and listen to music whilst staring out at the world crumbling around them.
When it's decided that Jesse has to go out to try and figure if there was a way to get to the other side of the river, so that they could all perhaps head to Dave's house, the action takes off once again and the tension escalates.
Jesse has a run in with one of the chasers and in an awkward Samaritan moment he does not kill the chaser, but instead he gives him an apple...the whole book is spun on its head. The chaser allows Jesse to go free and it is such a weird suspended moment that I wondered about it for the longest time.
Back at the Empire State Building nothing has changed when Jesse gets back. He gives his report and everyone decides that it might be a good idea to leave the building to head somewhere else.
It is an involved cat and mouse game between the four of them as they all have strong personalities. In the end they decide that yes, they should go. Try and get to a boat to sail away.
Things, of course, go pearshaped for the characters AND the author pulls the rug straight from under the readers and we are left gasping. I re-read the last few pages a couple of times thinking: no! It can't be right! He's kidding, right? But then, when I thought about it, I picked up on the indicators and could only applaud him for being a very devious but brilliant writer. I didn't like what he did, I have to say that, but I completely understand why he did it and where he came from.
I read Chasers a few weeks ago now, in preparation for #u14so and I'm still thinking about it, loving how real it all felt. I highly recommend the book - it may not be to everyone' taste as there are more questions than answers at this stage and we are also left wondering about our own sanity. I sort of regret reading Alone: Chasers as I wanted to motor through the entire story in one go. But that's the whole thing about good books, isn't it? They make you want to eat every single bit of it!
Find James Phelan's website here, along with the Alone site here. Alone: Chasers is out now from Atom in the UK and is a fast paced, apocalyptic novel for younger readers who are looking for something a bit different, scary and challenging to read.