Stranger - Simon Clark

(No Series)

The small town of Sullivan has barricaded itself against the outside world. It is one of the last enclaves of civilization and the residents are determined that their town remain free from the strange and terrifying plague that is sweeping the land, a plague that transforms ordinary people into murderous, bloodthirsty madmen. But the transformation is only the beginning. With the shocking realization that mankind is evolving into something different, something horrifying, the struggle for survival becomes a battle to save humanity. 

This apocalyptic type tale involves a young man, Valdiva, who has the extraordinary talent of noticing if someone is infected with the ‘Gantose plague’. It originated in South America and originally people thought that the bug would stay there, since it never seemed to be infecting others. Eventually, of course, it spreads across the world. At first people are terrifying afraid of illness in general (Clark uses the emphasism for rabies and the fear of water to drive this home), but eventually they turn insanely angry, unhuman in a sense, determined to do only one thing: kill all other humans.

Valdiva resides in the town of Sullivan, where is barely tolerated by the other townfolk. Sullivan has isolated itself from the world, keeping it a ‘clean’ area, but eventually begin turning on each other. Their assassin, Valdiva, disgusted with what’s happening but also afraid for his own future, sets out on his own until he encounters a group of survivors, constantly dodging infected people, called ‘hornets.’ There he finds an even worse nightmare, called a ‘hornet’s nest’, which is a blob like substance that sucks people in and drains them dry viva-la-vampire-from-hell.

The plot itself in unique in many ways. It obviously borrows some thoughts from other apocalyptic movies, but hey, the events that unfold are probably what really would happen if the world started turning on each other, so perhaps this is why using that formula is a good idea. Clark injects many surprises and twists along the way; the reader is kept on the edge of their seat as Valdiva and group encounters one mob of angry infected after another. Mysteries are brought up on Valdiva himself, the people surrounding him, the general state of the world, and what will come up next. Things are never as they seem, and Clark does a commendable job weaving up a tale of magic, full of power and dread from page one.

Any flaws that exist are some minor holes. Such as the convenient ending, not knowing the truth for sure about the protagonist himself, among other things. The way it wraps up feels suitable, though, for leaving things open ended can be the best way to do things sometimes. It worked well here.

The inconsistencies also fell on why he was never infected, and why he didn’t have to keep killing when confronted with a group of them vs. just a singular one. Also, why does he get the urge to kill them at all? You’d have to ask this question as you read the book to see what I’m driving at.

But small issues aside, the novel is knuckle-grinding. Scenes are packed full of action and useful information; I never grew bored. Characterization was rich and exciting, there were moments of pure suspense, and the situation itself was both bleak and grim.

Valdiva is a 19 year old male who seems a bit mature for his age. His sudden blackouts and anger strikes are interesting to say the least. The way he senses the hornets, through a stomach twitch and then muscle tightening, is also a good story tool. He works well with the other characters involved. All do their jobs well and serve the plot well.

Although I had a bit of trouble getting into the beginning at times due to flashbacks and confusion on not knowing what was going down, I kept reading because I wanted to know why. Something is always happening, it all works well, even scenes where the character is considering/learning/growing have enough movement to keep the story running along at top speed.

Clark has a way with words. His writing all flows together well, nothing stood out as awkward or stiff. He uses short sentences at times, particularly incomplete ones, to get the job done the best it could be. He doesn’t rely heavily on unique phrasing, but somehow it seems to come together as if he did. The dialogue is convincing and the exchanges between characters didn’t come out flat in the least.

I love apocalyptic stories. This one didn’t disappoint. Strangers is chocked full of action, mystery, intrigue, creepy as hell moments, strong-willed characters with concrete goals, and a few moving, emotional moments. The ending was a bit too convenient, as I stated before, but in a way it was ironic and there was a sense of social commentary in there. I went back from four to five stars, finally settling on 4. It wasn’t a perfect read but it was damn good, something I would recommend, with enthusiasm, to any horror fan.