First published back in March of 2018, US author Geoffrey Pierce’s debut novel ‘Manna City’ offered up a bleak and harrowing vision of an uncompromisingly desolate post-apocalyptic future.

DLS Synopsis:
They’d gotten lucky finding the hill, the cave, the rabbit fields, the small life-giving spring.  As far as Dane knew, there was no other place like it left on earth.  To have so much in one place.  The days of green grass and flowing waters were long gone.  The Great Changes had decimated the earth as it had once been.

Dane and his nine month pregnant wife, Nista, had managed to eke out a life in their chosen corner of this uncaring new world.  Their small sanctuary in a dying, sun-scorched world.  But it hadn’t been an easy ride.  Day-to-day living was a constant struggle.  Food was always in short supply.  The nearby woodland could yield more food, but they knew it was too dangerous to venture into.  The ganguam who lurked in the shadows between the aging trees were truly beasts to be feared.

Dane knew too well the threat the ganguam posed.  He had lost an arm because of the savage creatures that lurked in the depths of the woodland.  The ganguam were vicious beasts that no man could stand up to.  He had been lucky to come away from the encounter with his life.  They’re young son, Tanin, hadn’t been so lucky.  The ganguam hadn’t gotten him, but something or someone else had.

Nista had warned Dane not to let Tanin go into the desert alone.  She’s begged him not to let Tanin go.  But Dane hadn’t listened.  He’d let the boy walk off to his death.  Or worse.

His son.  The one thing of true beauty left to him in this world.  Gone.  He would never forgive himself for letting the boy go.  And he knew Nista would never forgive him either.

Since that day Nista hadn’t uttered another word to Dane.  That was until Halvist and his men had arrived.  They’d found Nista and Dane’s little sanctuary.  Pulled their weapons on the two of them.  They would undoubtedly have killed them had their own pursuers not caught up with them.  Dane had taken Halvist and his men into the woodland.  A last chance at survival.  They’d chosen to face the horrors in the woods instead of fight a losing battle.

Should they survive, Halvist had promised Nista he would take them to Manna City.  Not that Halvist knew where the fabled city was located.  Not that he even believed in the city’s existence.  But the woman, this heavily pregnant starving woman, was determined.  She’d seen the city in her dreams.  More importantly, she truly believed in it.  With all her aching heart.

And that was more than enough for her…

DLS Review:
There’s been somewhat of a resurgence in thought-provoking dystopian fiction in recent years.  Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ (2006) was undoubtedly, at the very least, partly responsible for this.  But recently there’s been vast swathes of similarly set novels, all tackling a miserable dystopian future in their own particular way.  The backdrop always grim.  Mere survival at the heart of the turmoil.  The painful day-to-day plight.

For his debut, Geoffrey Pierce has gone with an immensely desolate and savage vision of a dystopian future.  Like with McCarthy’s tale, the reason for the decimation of mankind and the near-annihilation of the planet is left wholly unexplained.  Instead, we’re thrust headfirst into this bleak existence, where the past means little-to-nothing, and day-to-day survival is everything.

In fact, this is very much the ethos of the tale.  If things don’t need explaining, then they quite simply aren’t.  You merely need to accept that these thing have happened, that they exist, and that this is invariably how things are.  Take for example the ganguam or the yalgroot.  Both are fearsome beasts, described as terrifying maneaters that prowl the woodland or the deserts.  In the case of the yalgroot, these monstrous beasts are portrayed akin to reincarnated Jurassic dinosaurs.  Your imagination runs wild as these colossal creatures come charging into the tale, ripping people limb from limb as they themselves fight for survival.

However, it’s not the ganguam or the yalgroot that are the biggest threat to those few remaining.  The desolate deserts provide little in the way of food or water.  Mankind is left clinging to survival, their bellies achingly empty, their mouths bone dry and forever thirsty for one more drop of life giving moisture.  Other than the slim pickings of flesh on the odd malnourished rabbit, the characters get by on little more than the tough meat of scuttling lizards and burrowing bugs and the occasional handful of flies from around yalgroot dung.

The sheer desperation that Pierce manages to portray in the tale is incredible.  Your belly with ache with sympathy pains from how believable the hunger feels.  The harsh, sandy environment and the scorching heat of the sun feels unbearably oppressive.  It’s masterfully depicted and maintained with nothing short of a perfectionist’s eye for detail.

What undoubtedly helps with the storytelling is that Pierce can write so damn well.  His use of word in his descriptions is magnificently captivating.  At times his writing feels almost poetic in its prose.  The vividness of the setting, the characters and their plight, breath-taking in its masterfully described clarity.

And that brings me on to the characters, of which there are just three principal ones:- Nista, Dane and Halvist.  Throughout the tale Pierce switches the perspective between these three characters to provide a fuller, more involved picture, utilising the depth of each of these characters to its full advantage.  In doing so, Pierce changes how he references each character, making Halvist “the scar-faced man” and Dane “the one-armed-man” as the perspective roves between the two.  It’s another small element that works so well.  That shows the intricate thought behind every aspect of the prose.

Of course pounding away at your skull is the almost palpable intensity of the tale.  It throbs and spreads like a malignant cancer.  At times the sheer intensity of the situation, of everything happening and every heated breath, feels overwhelming.  The oppressive near-claustrophobia of the harsh environment and the constant struggle for survival hangs over everything.  Bearing down on your skull.  Like a backbreaking weight that you can’t throw off.

The repeated unknowing works in the tale’s favour.  I get that for some these unexplained aspects can feel frustrating and unresolved.  But this abandonment of necessity to fully tell the story opens more doors than closing them.  With an acceptance that not everything will have answers, that some things simply need to be taken as what they are, you’ll hopefully find the novel expands far further than its mere page count.

Pierce has managed to put the reader deep into the cutthroat fabric of his harsh vision of a wrecked and dying world.  If you’re looking for a novel that will eventually lead you to a place of heart-warming resolution, then this is not the tale for you.  It’s as punishing and unforgiving as our own real world can be.  It brings the embedded cruelty of humanity into sharp and uncompromising focus.  But through the cracks in the seemingly careless landscape, delicate whispers of hope can sometimes grow.  It’s that age-old reluctance to give up on ourselves.  That dying faith that somewhere in even the most broken life, there is some residue of compassion left lingering.

This is an incredible read.  It’s not for everyone.  The brutality of the tale doesn’t bludgeon you in your face, but rather it’s constantly on your back, dragging you down as you struggle ever onwards.  Through the writing, the wonderful wordsmanship and purposeful prose, the tale has become far greater than its story or indeed its initial vision.  You can take great, blood-soaked chunks out of the novel to devour later as your mind ponders the further reaches that Pierce has allowed the imagination to explore.

This is a novel for readers who so often thirst for more.  One for those who thrive in the unspoken, unexplained depths that transcend past its pages.

If you’re a regular on DLS Reviews, then this novel is very possibly one for you.  I urge you to find out.

The novel runs for a total of 166 pages.what Richard Ayre brings us next…

The novel runs for a total of 399 pages.

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