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Defender by G X Todd

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

I’ve said this in the past and I’ll say it again now – I have a soft spot in my heart for apocalyptic fiction. I love nothing better than a good apocalypse. Last year I read about half a dozen books that had a distinctly end of the world type vibe. The Fireman by Joe Hill, The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, and The Last of Us by Rob Ewing were all extremely good examples. Why this fascination with the end of all things as we know it? It’s simple. I am consumed with wanting/needing to know what happens next. For me, the very best examples of apocalyptic fiction suggest to us how humanity will change. It is all about questioning our place in the universe. What will we become?  Will we adapt, evolve, accept and move on, or will we stumble and fall into oblivion. The latest entry onto for me to add to this is Defender by G X Todd.

The first thing you realise when you start reading Defender is that the world you are used to is now fundamentally changed. Vast numbers of the world’s population have started hearing voices in their heads that are not their own. Just imagine this happened to you. How would you cope? What if those voices made suggestions you didn’t like? What if they told you to commit violence, self-harm, even suicide? For some as yet undisclosed reason, there has been a seismic shift in the nature of humanity. Those who are left are doing whatever they can to get by. If that means taking out the competition, then so be it. What remains of society has fragmented into brutal roaming gangs and isolated individuals living under the radar. The plot initially picks up the story seven years after the voices first arrived.

I loved all the characters. Pilgrim is an enigmatic sort. We don’t know a massive amount about of his history, but he does have an internal companion, known only as Voice. Somehow though, Pilgrim and Voice have managed to reach an accord. They co-habit the same body and although Voice is quite snarky, and often annoying, they get mostly get along. When Pilgrim, and Voice, first meet Lacey she is the textbook definition of curious. She has lived a large chunk of life in an isolated farmhouse. The horrors that others have experienced are unknown to her. When she meets Pilgrim she has to grow up quickly. The wider world is now a dangerous place and her new friend can only protect her so much. The dynamic between Pilgrim and Lacey is beautifully executed. They form their own little dysfunctional family unit as they learn to depend on one another. There is also a character called Posy who is nothing if not memorable.

My favourite apocalyptic novels are Swan Song by Robert McCammon and The Stand by Stephen King. I’m going to make a bold claim. I reckon that The Voices has the potential to be right up there with these classics. Defender gets things off to an impressive start. It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel, it is so well crafted. When I started reading I rattled through the first hundred pages of the novel without a break. The characters feel well realised and the plot is so damned engaging.  The novel ends on a bittersweet note. It is the mark of a skilled author when they can make a story both hopeful yet sad in the same moment. I genuinely can’t wait to see where this goes next.

When I started writing this review, I was about halfway through reading Defender and I thought I had a good idea of exactly how things were going to play out. I wrote five hundred words on my theory. I was very pleased with myself. What is that saying? Pride comes before a fall. Turns out my smugness was short lived. I ended up deleting it all. Todd’s writing offers some tantalising hints about where the voices come from but doesn’t commit to anything, at least not just yet. I realised it was wrong on my part to try and second guess what was going on. This is the first book in a series, there is no need to rush, there will be more to come.

I have a profound desire to talk to other people that have read Defender. I’d love to hear what others think. You could give this book to a dozen readers and I suspect you’ll get a dozen interpretations of how and why the voices exist.

G X Todd is an exciting new voice in genre fiction. If you’re looking for first class apocalyptic fiction that is going to engage your brain cells then look no further, you just found it.

Defender is published by Headline and is available from 12th January. Highly recommended.

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