Because of *gestures at the world* I haven’t read any sorts of dystopian or post-apocalyptic books in a few years. But this book has been on my radar for a while, and since the author is relaunching the series, I wanted to check it out (quick note on timing: I read this book and wrote the review last summer, before reading Ashes of Regret). Gray certainly doesn’t mess around, and the apocalypse hits hard in chapter 1, not letting up for the entire first section of the book. Events are extra poignant for Baltimore area residents since Gray makes excellent use of real locations to lend verisimilitude to the destructive effects of the mysterious calamity.

The world changes pretty much overnight, as much as most characters do their best to cling to the old ways. That can mean more than simply assuming this is a passing disaster after which everything will return to normal, as Rachel first focuses more on her son’s long-term cancer problems than on surviving this new world. Her son Adam is an excellent foil when he is often more realistic than Rachel about what is to come. In contrast, Rachel continues to be more practical, but that attitude often wars with her denial of the way the world around them has changed. Part of what makes Rachel such a compelling character is that it’s nice to see a post-apocalyptic hero who is not always strong and resilient. Instead, the character development she experiences throughout this book is that she doesn’t come into her own power as much as what she sacrifices to claim it.

Rachel and Adam do eventually come to understand the true nature of why their world has changed, and Rachel’s prior knowledge about the fallen Mesopotamian gods makes her various encounters with them both creepier and more intriguing than if she had none. One thing I especially appreciate about this world is how Gray doesn’t default to the “typical” deity pantheons most readers are familiar with, such as Greek or Egyptian. Another aspect of this book I enjoyed is that Rachel already leans toward an agnostic view of religion so that we don’t have to bother with some sort of crisis of faith on her part (another point for Rachel’s practicality here). Instead, she faces down gods and their avatars without automatically putting them on a pedestal. This helps her and Adam survive more than once, because there are definitely bad gods, but there also aren’t necessarily any good gods in this new paradigm. All of them are greedy, though, which Rachel does work out enough to tip the scales in her favor more than once.

Overall, Rachel’s adventures in this book make for a compelling read as she transitions from a suburban housewife whose priority is her son’s health to a post-apocalyptic survivor (whose priority is still very much her son’s health). The ending is satisfying on its own, but at the same time, everything Rachel undergoes here also feels like an extended prologue for whatever she will face next. Gray does an excellent job of setting up the expectations for an intriguing series without taking the cliffhanger shortcut. But she also makes it clear that Rachel might not be the hero we should be focusing on. Adam has also experienced his share of mysteries and transformations in this book, and I’m extremely curious about the role he might play in this new world. Count me in for future books.

Disclaimer: I purchased and read the hardcopy edition of a previously published version of this book; I am friends with the author, who did not ask me for a review.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars.

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