Review of Days Too Dark by J.J. Shurte

Mars watches over the camp and guards the caravans as they make their way through the ruins of Brisbane, the last city in Australia to fall. The pay is terrible and the threat of death hangs over him constantly, but it’s basically what he did before the world ended. Despite his best efforts to bury himself in solitude and his work, all too often Mars finds himself in the eye of the storm. He doesn’t mind though; anything to stay busy and keep his mind off things. 
But when he’s wounded and left bedridden, there’s nothing else for Mars to do but stop and confront himself and the things he’s done. Years of facing off against sickness, misery, violence and death have done nothing to prepare him for his toughest fight yet — being helpless and trapped with his own thoughts. 
Designed as an in-world journal, ‘Days Too Dark’ is a first-hand account of the fall of the old world and the events that transpired after. With beautiful illustrations and a collection of artefacts from before and after the world ended, ‘Days Too Dark’ takes readers through the collapse of Brisbane city while exploring the shattered psyche of a broken man.
If you like post-apocalyptic stories like ‘Mad Max’, ‘The Book of Eli’, ‘The Road’ or ‘The Last of Us’ then you’ll love the grim desperation of ‘Days Too Dark’.

Where to start… I think it’s fair to say that I’ve not read anything quite like Days Too Dark before but that is in a good way.  The journal perspective isn’t new, but what this author has done with it is quite special.  It’s not set out in any regimented way, there are no natural breaks and pauses – it’s an outpouring from a man who has his first opportunity to rest in 18 years, a gunshot wound leaving him temporarily bed bound, and in a post apocalyptic world there is little else for him to do but get lost in his own thoughts.

This is very much borderline on a graphic novel of sorts, the book is heavily illustrated from full page spreads of an event down to the textured paper effect.  It is also peppered with newspaper cuttings, photos and cunningly fitting tarot cards.  These really help to solidify the story which often pulls you in many directions, it’s disjointed but in a way that works.  Our MC, Mars, mixes in past and present, dropping in hints of things he returns to later when his mind wanders back that way – it may seem chaotic but there is actually nothing in the way of continuity that doesn’t eventually get answered.  It’s grim reading at times, as you would expect from the genre, and despite everything Mars seems to be atoning for in this journal, he still manages to poke fun at himself along the way.  There are also some really great representations in the story, that even when the worst happens society still manages to keep it’s social classes – the elites out on an anchored ocean liner still partying like they are in The Great Gatsby and the lower classes distilling their own booze and avoiding armoured feral panda’s!

There is a lot of creativity in this story which factors in enough factual information about the area to feel it could ring true in the event of a disaster.  I loved the aspect of the “Tomb Shrooms” and the irrational impact they had upon Mars and the others, I would like to think that there is much more to them and their overall purpose.

Days Too Dark is ultimately an insight into one man who had spent the first part of his life not being a particular achiever but then being forced into becoming a leader who many see as an unwavering force to get things done.  Slowly though he is breaking from the inside out, dealing with systematic loss and tough choices.  There are some truly heartbreaking aspects of his tale but there are also lighthearted moments too.  The way society rebuilds is fascinating and I love the fact that no-one has a clue what caused “The Fall” and no one seems to really dwell on it either, society is forced to move on and time spent pondering the why’s is time better spent elsewhere.

Why the 4* – well whilst I cannot fault the writing or the depth of the story telling, I felt that this just wasn’t a book suited to a digital medium, the handwriting style font was difficult to read at times and with unusual names and Australian slang thrown in I felt I was sometimes studying the page far too hard.  That kind of took me out of the flow at times and this is really a story that should have you fully absorbed.  When I was reading I was thinking how much nicer it would be to have the feel of the type of page the graphic represented, a crinkly page that perhaps make a creak when turned, the idea of tangible items within.  If you can get the paperback this would be a 5* reading experience, and it really is an experience.  I’m very grateful for the author for the review copy, there are some things that will stay with me and give me pause for a little while I think

Days Too Dark is currently available through Amazon and is free with Kindle Unlimited.

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