When you think of a rollercoaster it’s fast, frenetic and a little bit scary, which is what you’ll get from We Are the Dead without having to queue for two hours first. WATD is the debut novel from Mike Shackle in his grimdark series The Last War, following its characters through the dark and deadly life in an occupied territory as they try to resist the enemy and take back their country, Jia. The book’s main storyline takes place over a span of eight days, which adds to the fast-paced nature of it, and follows five main points of view: Tinnstra, Jax, Dren, Yas and Darus.
Tinnstra is a young woman consumed by fear and a desperate desire to live but not necessarily the courage to fight for it until she gets caught up in an escape attempt that could give all of Jia hope for a future of freedom. While the blurb on the reverse of the book only specifically mentions Tinnstra, she is not the sole focus of the story; nevertheless her arc presents a refreshingly honest take on violence and war. After all, if you look within yourself, would you really have the courage to fight an unwinnable war knowing it would cause your certain death? Or, would you be petrified and forced to run and hide?
Dren’s story – aside from Tinnstra’s – shows some of the most growth. From a reckless, rebellious teenager, hellbent on killing the enemy no matter the cost, to a young man who can see the bigger picture and the part he has to play in it. The character development across the board is excellent and Dren’s is possibly my favourite.
There is plenty of dark, grim and gritty content here too. Everyone suffers some sort of familial loss, even if in one case it’s a twistedly happy affair. There is death on a mass scale, betrayal, failure, torture and the ever-present looming darkness of fear. This is still a tale of rebellion and resistance despite all the odds going against our Jian friends and a brilliant read that is more than it seems.
Some TW/CW for the book: suicidal ideation, sexual assault, mentions of and attempted r*pe, torture