This week, things are getting all dystopian with Jamie Mollart’s new novel Kings of a Dead World, published by Sandstone Press. This fair and unbiased review was conducted with gratitude for the free copy of the book which I received from the author.
This review contains an affiliate link to Bookshop.org, which will earn me a small commission if used and will help to support independent bookshops.
In a city forced into hibernation for three months out of every four in order to combat the shortage of Earth’s resources, caretaker Petruzzi keeps watch over his sleeping charges. Within the city itself, elderly resident Ben struggles to feed himself and his ailing wife, whose mind is slipping away a little more every day. Both men will find themselves haunted by the ghosts of the past, as dissent foments in the populace and unease grows.
Switching between Petruzzi, Ben, and a mysterious third narrator from the past, Kings of a Dead World’s narrative is a well woven one. Mollart flits back and forth in time to show how the decisions and actions Petruzzi makes while Ben and his fellow citizens are sleeping impact on the city in its waking state, as well as showing how the events of the past led to the present day situation. Each of Ben and Petruzzi’s chapters open with what month it is, as well as the city’s status – awake or sleeping. Everything doesn’t so much hang together as slot into place seamlessly; a neat chain of cause and effect which occasionally coils in on itself for added flair.
The dead world of the title is extremely well-realised too – this is a setting that feels very much like our own world, taken further down a particularly horrifying track. The events leading up to this somnambulant society give Kings of a Dead World a cli-fi contemporaneity, with the chilling plausibility of many of the decisions the politicians and revolutionaries take really fleshing this out. The actions of a small and frighteningly determined terrorist cell – one which our third narrator is a key member of – take place in our own not-too-distant future, in a version of Britain that’s at breaking point and forced to make increasingly desperate decisions. News reports and the group’s own experiences of life in this disintegrating nation feel urgent and anxiety-inducing, events grounded enough in our own reality as to be believable.
There’s almost a horror movie vibe to Kings of a Dead World at times, a reading that’s borne out by the well developed tension-building, the moments of violence and the psychological thriller feel to some passages. There’s a simmering undercurrent of potentially explosive revelation and violence to everything, an urgency to even the most seemingly mundane events that means you’re never allowed to feel completely at ease when reading. As Petruzzi starts digging and begins to warily uncover more about the shadowy past of his world for himself, there’s a real sense that something is going to drop imminently, and it feels equally as likely to be a hammer as it does to be a penny.
With its frightening future Britain and original dystopian ideas, Kings of a Dead World feels both visionary and vital. Its literary merits also make it an easy recommendation for fans of the likes of Ben Smith’s Doggerland, Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse and J.G. Ballard.
Don’t sleep on this one.
Kings of a Dead World is out now, published by Sandstone Press. You can order a copy through this affiliate link.
3 thoughts on “Book Review: Kings of a Dead World, by Jamie Mollart”
[…] Ollie at Infinite Speculation has an intriguing sounding review of Kings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart […]
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[…] Coming out of nowhere – literally – Jamie Mollart’s Kings of a Dead World turned up at work one day, and my manager very wisely passed it onto me, correctly assessing that it was very much my sort of thing. In the distant future, a pocket of humanity that has managed to survive the climate crisis clings to life thanks to The Sleep. For three months out of every four, the city goes into hibernation, its residents sedated, while caretakers watch over them and gamble on the markets to try and increase the populace’s meagre resources. Petruzzi is one such caretaker, diligent to the core, until one night a fellow caretaker encourages him to see what lies beyond the boundaries of the city. With his head full of the mysteries of the world of before, his story rushes headlong beside Ben’s; an ageing resident, he’s forced to watch his wife’s condition deteriorate as she succumbs to the illness plaguing her. With harrowing visions of the decline of civilisation that feel all too plausible, Kings of a Dead World is an incisive and propulsive dose of dystopian cli-fi. You can read my review here. […]
[…] of that rapidly expanding subgenre of speculative fiction then, joining the likes of Doggerland and Kings of a Dead World in the cli-fi camp. It’s shorter than even the fairly trim former title though, and less grand in […]