In Elecboy, Jaouen Salaün has created a post-apocalyptic world where only a few pockets of humanity survive. Exactly how many pockets isn’t completely clear, but this book is largely focused on a single community. Naturally, even when the odds are against them, what’s left of humanity still can’t help but divide itself into factions, and in this case there are two: the haves and the have nots. Even in extreme diversity, it seems that humankind is unable to escape its distasteful desire to wrestle power and privilege from its neighbours.
This particular pocket of survivors exist on opposite sides of an enormous dam. On one side there’s a ruling family that has everything they need, but is protective of their town and the population they lord over. These people are kept in check through a double whammy of mystic knowledge passed down the bloodline, and local muscle kept loyal through ignorance and wealth.
On the other side of the dam is a shanty town, where people can live free from the influence of the others, but whose subsistence living is scratched out of the dry earth. Elements such as schooling and a requirement for labour brings the two communities together, to a certain extent, but the class system is entrenched and brutally upheld. This bit doesn’t totally hold together, in my mind, so you have to be willing to roll with it. From a story perspective it’s a means to an end and, believe me, if this kind of thing bothers you, you might as well move along and find another book to read.
The story running through is hung on the character of a young man, brought up by his father on the poor side of town, falling for a girl from the ruling family. In time-honoured tradition, her half-brother is having nothing of this ill-advised match-up and, as we find out as the story progresses, there’s more historical inter-generational complication to this situation that first meets the eye.
Meanwhile, there’s the question of what brought about the apocalypse in the first place. The beginning of the story sees some shape-shifting robotic intelligence taking out some kind of mystical human, who eventually appears to go nuclear rather than be captured. Quite who these androids are working for isn’t made entirely clear until the cliff-hanger ending of the book, and the grand revelation of the nature of humanity’s enemy.
It’s artfully done. The story is quite complicated and deserves full attention, but by controlling both the story, the dialogue and the visuals, Salaün gets across a complex set of characters and plot, set in a fully realised world, without losing the reader. It doesn’t totally gel together and there are elements that give you cause to wonder if the story is avoiding the difficult questions that post-apocalyptic world building should almost certainly answer, but it doesn’t really damage the enjoyment of the book.
For a post-apocalyptic thriller it’s a relatively character-driven piece, though I suspect the situation is likely to ramp up in future books. On that basis, colour me interested. I’m not sure I’m so convinced that I’d recommend the series to you, dear reader, on having consumed just this first volume. However, if you like the general conceit of Mad Max working through his romantic issues, then it might be worth a punt. I’ll definitely aim to review the second book in the future and see if it cements the hanging-in-the-balance start we have here.