Imagine if there was a killer contagion in the rain. Everything open to the sky is in danger. Few water supplies are safe. Every time you step outside, you keep an eye on the clouds, and risk your life in this desperate and unique – and somehow very British – situation.
When the last adult around her dies, Ruby can’t cope with being alone and leaves her home to find her dad in London, determined to believe he’s still alive. She travels with the school nerd, a silent little girl, and a collection of dogs Ruby can’t bear to leave behind – anything for company and as a distraction from the horror of death everywhere she goes . . . and the crazy-making thirst.
It’s a very suburban apocalypse. With no zombies or tangible aliens to terrorise the living, it becomes a slow burn survival tale where the biggest danger is any source of water and other survivors. It’s good to see a more normal, flighty teen heroine in the face of a planet-wide disaster – it’s almost a continual accident she even survives. This isn’t an action story or much of a future-parable; Ruby doesn’t rally people, the Big Bad Enemy here can’t be fought, there’s no insidious government, and Ruby even delays her salvation with a free-for all clothes shop. It’s Disaster Lite – part of an unspoken sub-genre for readers who don’t want full-blooded sci-fi / fantasy / horror / genre of choice, but like the flavour of it in their book without the heavy ideas that usually come with the genre. (A blessing or a curse, depending what you’re after from a story.)
The idea of the deadly water is put to good use, the dangers of desperate people well observed, and Ruby’s teen humour counterpointed with some clever moments of terror and sadness. It could have been more of personal journey. The weight of the horror of the disaster continually threatens to crush Ruby, so she focuses on living from one day to the next, developing fuzzy feelings for the nerd – and finding the next safe drink as the world and the people she knew molder around her. But this deep feeling of suppression pervades the whole book, leaving Ruby and the disaster feeling intriguing but too underdeveloped to be really satisfying. It’s compelling reading, though, and does make you eye up your next drink with suspicion – and gratitude.