Titan Books, out April 2015
In a world under attack from vicious creatures, silence isn’t just golden – it’s mandatory if you want to live…
How often do we really listen to what’s around us? Prior to reading Tim Lebbon’s tale of a world changed immeasurably, I probably would have said it’s pretty silent in my office at the moment, since I don’t have background music playing – but now I notice the fan on the laptop, the occasional whirr of the Sky hard drive, the distant sound of my daughter watching NCIS on the TV downstairs, the boiler kicking in, laughter from outside as a group of teenagers head out for their Saturday evening, a dog woofing to be let in…
Now imagine that any one of those sounds could bring down utter devastation and kill everyone in the house in seconds. How would you cope?
You’d have to hope that you do as well as the central family in Lebbon’s tale, who have already been visited by some tragedy prior to the story beginning, leaving the teenage daughter, Ally, deaf. Lebbon tells the story primarily from two perspectives – Ally’s first-person narration, and her father’s point of view – which give sometimes highly contrasting takes on the same situation. Both of them are watching TV when the incident which leads to the outbreak of the all-destroying vesps into the world occurs and we follow their journey through a society that’s breaking down considerably quicker than we might like to think possible. They’re lucky in one respect: because of Ally’s condition, they already know how to sign, which means they can communicate silently in a way denied to many others (although one group’s attempts are horrifying). But they are forced into decisions that no one should have to take.
The vesps’ method of killing is horrendous, but although the creatures are central to the story, they’re also something of a MacGuffin in terms of their arrival and biology – their rampage towards Ally and her family in the UK is relayed through reports of news bulletins, Prime Ministerial statements and the occasional social media posting that Ally is able to follow (using an iPad that’s a damn sight better at holding its charge than mine!). It’s that inexorable element that Lebbon brings across so well: we know that none of the defences are likely to hold, and it’s just a question of how far our protagonists can get before the creatures arrive – and whether they can deal with the spreading ripples of societal breakdown that precede that.
There are some interesting Easter eggs scattered through the book that fans of the genre will appreciate, and almost too many moments that will make you wonder what you would do in the circumstances. There’s scope for a sequel – and I hope we will see it soon.
Verdict: A chilling tale of a society collapsing to its knees in the face of an inexorable force. 9/10