WANTED: Men and women willing to drive through the valley of the shadow of death.
The world’s population has been decimated by the Change, a chain reaction of events triggered by global warming. In Europe, governments have fallen, cities have crumbled and the wheels of production have ground to a halt. The Alps region, containing most of the continent’s remaining fresh water, has become a closed state with heavily fortified borders. Survivors cling on by trading through the Runners, truck drivers who deliver cargo and take a percentage. Amid the ruins of central Germany, two Runners, Cassady and Ghazi, are called on to deliver medical supplies to a research base deep in the Italian desert, where scientists claim to be building a machine that could reverse the effects of the Change. Joining the pair is a ragtag collection of drivers, all of whom have something to prove. Standing in their way are starving nomads, crumbling cities, hostile weather and a rogue state hell-bent on the convoy’s destruction. And there’s another problem: Cassady is close to losing his nerve.
A few months ago I took a step back from dystopian as I felt that there was nothing new to the genre for me, I’m so glad that the author reached out to me to review By the Feet of Men as this was certainly the book I had been waiting for to pull me out of that feeling. Fully immersive, thoughtful, gritty and as realistic an interpretation as you’re likely to get of a dystopian future in my view.
There were so many things that this book got right, the world, the characters and the premise. It was also really refreshing to have a dystopian set outside of the USA. What was left of Europe made a great setting, the diverse landscape and terrain making it easy to flip between conditions and as a European reader it was easier to visualise where they were travelling. It’s got a real road movie feel and plenty of Mad Max vibes for good measure. The real stand outs though are the characters, very much driven by them, (pun not intended) the story is somewhat introspective which is what really makes this book stand out from its peers. Rather than the cinematic writing style, all action fights and car chases often favoured by this genre, we have quiet contemplation, teamwork, and long forged friendships but also suspicion and the sense that it has all just become too much to bear. This makes fertile ground for the medical supply run that our runners are tasked with – a chance to make things a little better. By the Feet of Men really looks into the impact of living day to day in an established dystopian terrain. How the characters reconcile what they have to do and have done to survive, whilst retaining their humanity. It tells of a lonely life where friendships with travelling companions are often the only thing to keep runners going. There was also great female representation too, the women are just as tough as the men and I liked how the women present weren’t reduced to eye candy or damsels in distress, they are all runners. You may be thinking that this would make a dull read, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are fights and plenty of action, but only when necessary, there is a great parallel story running along the edge of our characters journey, which provides much of this and could be great scope for a sequel. The real page turning coming from the need as a reader to find out if the convoy makes it in time in the end and how they overcome each obstacle. This is without a doubt a page turner of a read and doesn’t rely on gimicky cliffhanger chapter endings to drive the story forward, it’s able to that under it’s own steam.
I really loved how the vehicles, the Pantechs, were characters in their own right too, they are very much the runners livelihood and it’s only right that were given the credit and care that they were due!
Were there any things that went wrong for me then? Very little in fact. Honestly, I didn’t really like the cover. It works well in the context of the story, by way of representation of the Pantechs, but it’s not one that jumps out to me and doesn’t really convey the great story underneath. It would actually work quite well as a movie poster though! I have to say I did on occasion feel a little confused about the characters that were speaking and being spoken too. For the most part all the team are referred to by surname, so when we’re given a first name as part of a round table discussion it wasn’t always clear to me. This is ultra ultra picky of me though but it did pull me out of the story a few times.
Truly though, this is an exceptional story with highly accomplished writing, I found it a timely reminder too of all that is currently wrong in the world with climate change. It’s totally a standalone but I would love to see a return to the world and one characters next steps as there are clearly plenty of opportunities to expand the world further!