Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review of The Last Pilgrims

The Last Pilgrims by Michael Bunker

The Last Pilgrims is set twenty years after a post-world collapse. In this story, the fractured US has returned to a “the medieval system of monarchy and aristocracy”. The author’s explanation for the medieval culture is:
“The obsession with castles, keeps, and siege walls, and basically all things medieval, was a natural result of necessity, combined with the mentality born of a return to monarchy.”
I’m not sure this situation would actually occur; but it does combine my love of the medieval era and my love of post-apocalyptic fiction. I found both aspects of the story very enjoyable.

The prologue reads like a history book; I personally think a shorter prologue would have worked much better. After the Prologue, the book blossoms and the characters come alive. Each chapter is named after a character and gives insight into the character, along with advancing the current timeline or exploring how this character survived the collapse.

This two timeline feature, a little bit like the Lost “flashbacks” allows the reader to learn about the collapse and follow the main story. Too many post-apocalyptic stories, don’t explore why the apocalypse occurred or how the characters survived. The Last Pilgrims makes sure that each facet of the story, past and present, are explored.

There are a couple of references to contemporary post-apocalyptic novels and how the authors got it wrong:
“In almost all of the post-apocalyptic literature, he said, it was usually predicted that over-hunting would have wiped out all of the game after a collapse. He explained that, because most writers had a bias towards industrialism and the status-quo (he called it a Normalcy Bias, or the Ceteris Parabus fallacy), they automatically assumed that almost everyone was going to survive any collapse.”
“In the books, the gangs of low-life misfits were always pictured as inbred mutant-zombie-biker trash; clownish representations of the lowest dregs of white-trash society; prison escapees and assorted trailer dwellers that enjoyed raping anything that moved and kicking puppies for fun.

Gareth had to smile at the irony of how things had really turned out. For the most part, in the last 20 years, the looter gangs of pillaging gypsies had been made up of former middle-class suburbanites.”
The leader of the Valenses, Jonathon, chose a remote location in Texas, far from the pre-collapse cities. The remoteness protected them from the looter gangs and the lower population left them with plentiful game. The small group of Valenses met their daily needs by hunting and farming. They continued to add recruits who had specialized skills – like Ana who tanned the hides of the game animals.

The Valenses continued to grow and prosper. They also had their own religion and were ruled by the elders, not a King. The surrounding Kingdoms, which grew by conquest, repeatedly target the Valenses. This conflict between the Kingdoms and the Valenses is the central plot of the story.

The Vallensian people are pacifists and because they are so vulnerable, the local militia has sworn to protect them. The militia fighters are the most knight-like of the fighters. Timothy refers to himself as:
“. . . raised in the militia. He didn’t even remember having a family, nor could he know what that meant outside the family he had among his brethren. His duty and honor were the only two things of consequence that he owned.”
Compare this to how the Chancellor describes the Kingdom’s army:
“. . . let me speak bluntly. The armies of Aztlan are weak and cowardly. We prevail and rule by means of numbers and not ability, bravery, or superior training. We all honor the King and respect him as is his due. To me, he is a god. But… his advisors are buffoons, and his generals fight for money and not loyalty. If this army were half its size, I would not dare fight even a hundred loyal militia troops. That, sir, is the sad but honest truth. We need brave and loyal men, and we breed cowards and cutthroats.”
The battle strategies used by the militia are interesting, and the readers will enjoy the neighboring Kingdom “flying” to the rescue.

Mr. Bunker has many enjoyable references, some about the past and some very useful survival information. I enjoyed this reference to the technology of the past:
“The fun part was when the older people would talk about technology. What magic! She had seen some of the devices, although they were all powerless now. ‘Phones’ no bigger than a stone, which were used to talk to people anywhere at any time without any delay. There were also computers, all linked together to share information across a huge ‘web’ called the ‘Internet’. As a result, you could find out anything in the world just by typing questions on your computer.”
This reference to a natural antibiotic, made me curious enough to check it out on-line:
“The most effective cure, though, to his delight, was copious amounts of beer brewed according to the most ancient traditions. Wally informed him that beer, when brewed naturally—according to the recipes used by the ancient Nubians, Hebrews, and Egyptians—created tetracycline in the human body—a powerful broad-spectrum antibiotic.”
I also loved learning how the Valenses stored the food that needed to be kept cool. They had a combination spring house and ice house which is too complex to explain in one paragraph. I recommend getting a copy of the book and reading it to fully understand their natural cooling system.

The best part of this book is how alive the characters are and how you want to know what happens to them. Often I found myself not liking a new character and then a few chapters later I would totally reverse my opinion.

Our main heroes Phillip, Jonathon, Timothy and Gareth are very three dimensional. They all have strengths and weaknesses; and a few were so stubborn I wanted to throttle them. Our heroines Ruth and Ana, come across as very strong and powerful and I think they are the heart of the story.

This book is part of a series, so not all storylines are wrapped up. I find myself wondering what the author has in store for Timothy and Ruth, Prince Gareth, Phillip, Ana and Jonathon.

I can’t wait to find out!

For more information go to: The Last Pilgrims