– by Eden Darry
After reading and thoroughly enjoying Eden Darry’s debut published novel, “The House,” I was looking forward to reading her sophomore effort, “Vanished.” Although after reading its blurb, I realised that it wasn’t going to be a horror story, rather, a speculative fiction, more like. I was intrigued to see how Darry weaved an apocalyptic/dystopia story, even though this particular sub-genre of spec fic isn’t my usual cuppa.
In the first few pages, I realised that this “end-of-the-world” story was going to have a heavy religious connotation throughout. Two words: NOAH’S ARK. Even if you’re not from the Christian/Muslim/Jewish persuasion, I’m sure you’ve heard about it since it’s been so mainstreamed already. Anyway, Darry started off the book with a huge storm and then a massively blinding white light descending upon the MCs (and the rest of the world), which caused the vanishing of just about everyone overnight! Well, except for the select (“chosen”) few including Ellery and Loveday, the 2 MCs, along with their pet dog and cat.
Like “The House,” Darry included the POVs of not just the 2 MCs but also the antagonists in this particular story. So, there were 4 POVs, which I thought was structured well and I got to know what those two antagonists were up to, where their mindsets were, as Darry slowly revealed more about the plot. Having said that, I was glad to be able to delve into the POVs of Ellery, the shy, introverted veterinarian who swore off romance after a failed relationship, feeling more at ease around animals than interacting with humans, and Loveday, a writer who also swore off romance but for an entirely different reason than Ellery’s, which had something to do with her clairvoyance. Yes, you heard right. In addition to Loveday’s extra-sensory ability, all 5 featured characters experienced one similar phenomenon, brought on by this apocalyptic occurrence where everyone simply vanished from the face of the earth after the storm and the sweeping white light – a series of prophetic dreams. I was intrigued by how those dreams unfolded. When the message was revealed, the so-called “slogan” reminded me of this old US TV series, “Heroes.” Remember that show? Yup, “Save the girl, save the world.” I mean, although Darry didn’t directly use that slogan but the connotation was obviously the same. Ellery and Loveday dreamed about this girl who needed to be saved who was apparently humanity’s last hope, aka, saving the world, innit?
Now, in pure Darry fashion, there were indeed some supernatural entities involved in this apocalyptic plot as well. Let’s see, the plot involved an “Ark” reminiscent of the biblical Noah’s Ark phenomenon, a religious fanatic who was hellbent on following the details of the Ark’s story in the bible to a tee, from building the ark on top of a summit where it would escape the impending apocalyptic storm, to “saving” the select few, in this case, followers who believed in the impending apocalypse, requiring everyone to adhere to strict Old Testament-style biblical laws (yeh, say goodbye to homosexuals, unmarried couples, what have you!), before the storm descended upon them that would wash away all humanity and living things on earth – global cleansing courtesy of the wrathful God of the OT! The girl? Well, this was where angels and demons came to play. On one side of the spectrum, Rosemary, the religious fanatic leader who proclaimed to be following God’s orders with all the Ark preparation, wanted the girl dead as instructed by one supernatural entity/prophetic dreams in the guise of “for the good of the future in a brand new world created.” On the other side of the spectrum, Ellery and Loveday were instructed by another supernatural entity and via their prophetic dreams, to find and save the girl from the clutches of the fanatic so the world, humanity, would be restored. So the race to find the girl was indeed set in motion from the start, really.
Darry constructed the apocalyptic narrative quite well including the usual survivor mode where the survivors would travel a long way, in this case, Loveday and Ellery along with their pets, from one location to the next, trying to find other surviving members of humanity whilst trying to carry out their prophetic mission, which only became more intense and dangerous as their dreams revealed more. I thought the chemistry between Loveday and Ellery was written with good pacing and realistic development. Bear in mind, this story wasn’t written mainly as a romance but using it as a companion piece to the larger story, which was about saving the girl, saving the world from the biblical apocalypse. Having said that, I actually enjoyed the development of a friendship between Loveday and Ellery who were attracted to each other but neither, especially Loveday (you’ll know her real reason for her reluctance when you read the book), wanted to pursue or acknowledge it. But when Cupid strikes, there’s no way to escape. So, however much both women, in the midst of finding the girl whilst avoiding a malevolent presence/entity that was trailing them, PLUS another character whose dreams instructed him to take the girl to Rosemary in return for what he was yearning for, their mutually undeniable attraction only grew as they spent more time together. Their budding romance was crafted and portrayed with ease as it flowed quite smoothly alongside the developing plot.
Needless to say, I thought Darry crafted a solid plot about salvation with intriguing characters featured to move the story along. Although, I’d have liked it even more if there were a twist to the otherwise very well known bible story about the Ark, i.e. making it a metaphysical phenomenon instead of a religious one. But, that’s just my own personal preference, obvs! Also, the idea of “The Chosen One,” to me, in this day and age, seemed a bit too simplistic, too black-and-white (good vs evil, right vs wrong, you get the picture), and we know that the world simply doesn’t work that way, does it? It’s all about the GREY, innit? And too much of a “hero syndrome” mentality, imo. Speaking of, I thought the ending (including the epilogue, for that matter) was a bit anti-climactic, especially after all the physical struggles, life-and-death, sacrifice vs resurrection, stampedes (yeh, you’ll know what I mean when you read it!), and the ultimate race to reach the destination point where salvation would be reached or the world ended. I would have enjoyed the book in its entirety even more had it not been for the incoherent end to the otherwise well-written, elaborated plot about salvation and defeating evil, which, left me scratching my head, wondering what just happened after all that.
All in all, I thought “Vanished” was well-written and worth a read if you just forego the point and rationale of the ending. I have no qualms reading future books from Darry because her narrative style has a smooth flow to it. Two books in, I’m quite confident that her writing and storytelling will continue to improve. We’ve all heard about the dreaded “sophomore slump/jinx/jitters,” haven’t we? I think it’s a normal phenomenon. So, I wouldn’t worry because Darry’s writing skills are solid. So I will continue to read her stories as she publishes them.
**I was given, with much thanks and appreciation, an ARC of this book, by BSB, in return for an honest review.
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