Review: A Desolate Splendor – John Jantunen

A Desolate Splendor: A NovelThe collapse of civilization has left the survivors scattered amongst a few settlements along the wilderness fringe of a land ravaged by war. Preyed upon by roving bands of sadistic ex-soldiers and ever at the mercy of a natural world that has turned against them, a family is facing their final days. Hope appears in the guise of their young son. Raised in isolation and taught by his father to survive at any cost, he is thrust headlong into a battle for the future of humankind after rescuing a girl fleeing from a savage and relentless cult bent on burning the world back to Eden.

Raw and unflinching, A Desolate Splendor weaves a stark, and eerily familiar, portrayal of life on the brink of extinction and heralds the rise of an exciting new voice in apocalyptic fiction.

Wow. This was a book unlike any other I’ve read and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. When I first read the premise of this novel, I thought it was going to be heavily post-apocalyptic but it wasn’t. Whatever event occurred to return man to a time of technological infancy was used as a background event, not as a main plot device.

This novel switches between the point of view of a few different sets of characters that are interconnected. I really like that narration style when it’s done well, and I thought it was executed beautifully in this novel. The main problem I had with this novel was with the writing style. It didn’t bother me that the dialogue had no quotation marks, but the “hick-speak” was really tiring to read and understand. I realize that it’s necessary to the story, but it’s hard to adjust to. Personally, that style of language isn’t something I enjoy and it often turns me off to the story.

Another issue I had with the novel was that very little happens. I thought that due to the post-apocalyptic setting there was going to be a lot of danger the characters would need to face, but there’s just a general lawlessness in the novel that caused the characters to do horrible, reprehensible things to each other. This book is intensely graphic in some of the scenes and I found myself physically repulsed. However, it’s rare for a book to elicit such a visceral response in me, so I have to applaud John Jantunen for being able to write so well. This book reminds me of a darker, edgier, and more dangerous version of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, another Canadian post-apocalyptic novel.

I thought the characters were written well and you learned to understand them and their motivations, but I never fully connected with any of them. Perhaps it was because their style of talking and living was so different than mine, but I ended up feeling indifferent to the the majority of the characters. The only exception was the young boy, whom I at least felt some compassion for.

I was expecting a lot from this novel, and while I was slightly let down by some things, I enjoyed its dark and intense atmosphere. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s a book that will stay with the reader. It’ll make an impact and the reader will be left thinking about it for years to come. I know I will.

I received a review copy of this novel from ECW Press. This has not affected my review in any way.


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