Burn Down the Sky
Mass Market Paperback
Advance Uncorrected Proof
A recent incident has forced the world into post-apocalyptic regression. Most of the planet is now a vast, barren, and burnt-out wasteland. We are never told the specifics of this event though it’s implied that global warming is, for the most part, at fault. Acts of barbarism are at an all-time high. Civilized humans struggle to survive but fight a losing battle. Cults, cannibals, and crazies roam this harsh, lawless environment. The civilized build protective walls around pockets of attainable water, tend wilted crops, and scrape out the most basic existence imaginable. The uncivilized simply take whatever they want; take what others have worked so hard to keep. The continued survival of the human race appears bleak and the back-breaking work of day-to-day subsistence is the only future anyone has to look forward to. Amidst all this turmoil, and to add insult to planetary injury, a sexually-transmitted virus one thousand times deadlier and faster than AIDS has turned sex into a painful, gruesome death-sentence. However, girls who have experienced their first menstrual period in the past twelve months are immune from the plague and are therefore highly desirable to marauders and other men of ill-repute. Rather than protected as saviors of the human race they are abducted from their homes and traded to the most powerful as playthings or as simple vessels of progeny. The stakes grow when a small, struggling community comes under attack by raiders and a group of young, pre-menstrual girls is kidnapped. The mother and sister of one of the abducted girls will stop at nothing to follow the kidnappers and secure her safe return.
To be honest, when I first read the premise in the opening chapter of Burn Down the Sky I thought, That’s a very weak assertion to base a novel on. Biology just doesn’t work that way, does it? Sex deadly? Well, yes, it can be, so wear protection. Oh yeah, the world has stopped production of everything. No more condoms. Wait, what about all those in grocery and convenience stores? Oh, the cities have all been burned to the ground during the food riots. However weak the original plot device might have felt in my mind it was long-forgotten before I was half-way through chapter two. The story became so immediately interesting to me that my questions were quickly forgotten. And then, to my surprise, all my objections were logically addressed and promptly answered in the course of the next few chapters. In some ways I felt the author knew these objections were obvious and that they would quickly occur to the audience. That Mr. Jaros recognized and addressed them early made my reading of the story that much more enjoyable.
You should know up-front that this story is not for the weak or faint of heart. There are quite a few gruesome, shocking, even grotesque moments in the pages of this book and there’s a lot of action and many scenes of intense violence. There’s death by fire and by explosion, there’s dismemberment, torture, death by gun shot and by beheading. Worse, there is life after rape, life after disfigurement, and life filled with unmitigated fear. Parents with young girls are strongly cautioned. Really bad things happen to some of the children in this story. (Some good things happen, as well, but telling you more would spoil things.) In a genre that is usually top-heavy with male characters I enjoyed seeing the woman’s perspective here and Jaros does a great job of creating strong, believable women role-models with real emotions. But, I also must say that combined with the violence and despair there are some very well-written scenes of redemption, perseverance and, of course, love. The atmosphere of Burn Down the Sky is somewhat reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road but only in the sense that each of the worlds have been turned into wastelands and scenes from Mad Max are also recognizable in that the marauders are mostly viscous, cruel, violent, and a bit “touched in the head.” In the end I really could not put this book down. Fortunately for me, since I otherwise would have suffered a few more sleepless nights, it’s a rather quick read. Burn Down the Sky is a fun, well-written, post-apocalyptic quest story that entertains and I strongly recommended it for fans of Stephen King’s The Stand, the Mad Max films, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.
4 out of 5 stars
* James Jaros is the pen name used by journalist and author Mark Nykanen.