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.