You know how there’s that trope in the end of the world book where the city folk go up north, usually at the end of the book, to find a new place to live? They’re expecting it to be quiet, or full of people who just live off the land, and yet curiously no one ever seems to meet a First Nations person? I’ve long thought about that and what happens when the city folk start to migrate north. This book actually approaches the question of the people who live up north, and what happens when civilization as we know it ends, and how the people who already live in that harsh a climate have to make due with no power and invading, culturally insensitive colonial assholes.
Some of the things I love about the book include the protagonist, Evan, and his well-adjusted, happy family. Rice has presented us with a community that is already healing the wounds from generations of mistreatment, and so the characters speak as much Anishnaabemowin as they can cobble together, give their children traditional names, and are starting to introduce old prayer and ritual into their daily practice. The reservation they all live on isn’t perfect, but it’s doing well, and the people are doing pretty well. While the southern cities quickly descend into chaos, the Rez keeps up appearances and tries to keep a lid on slowly burning tensions. Rice builds and builds at a steady rate, until a conflict seems inevitable. Much of what he describes seems perfectly likely and plausible, and it stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best end of the world fiction out there. I would know, I read most of it.
One thing I wish is that some of the secondary characters had been developed more. Beyond Evan and his wife, we don’t get a sense of who some of his friends and family members are, and the book is a little light on characterization. The first white person to arrive in the community, Justin Scott, is maybe a bit too mysterious and foreboding, and could have also used a bit more characterization to give Evan a proper foil. It also would have been useful to develop Evan’s brother Cam, and present more of a conflict between the two as Justin weasels into his life. There are some good opportunities to look at loyalty, hope, and the nature of family in a bigger conflict there.
Rice is a gifted storyteller, and has added a unique and, frankly needed, perspective into the Apocalypse genre. It would be cool if he followed this up with the same characters down the line, although I don’t think he will, since he wrapped it up pretty succinctly. Still, I’d love to see where he goes with the evolution of the recovering culture in this scenario, and how more clashes with white Canadians will shape them.