It is often hard for an author to bring something new to an already overworked, packed genre like the post apocalyptic realm.
Ali Shaw not only delivers, he has crafted himself his own sub-genre. Skillfully extracting elements from familiar territories and weaving them together into a colourful tapestry with mastery; he has created the quite stunning and aptly titled ‘The Trees’.
Adrien, our protagonist finds himself living a repetitive daily routine. Take-away food eaten in front of the television, whilst watching his favourite western films. One could exchange westerns for The X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing; he could well be talking about any of us (which only serves to make the subsequent events more nightmarish).
Adrien wakes to find his house, street and neighborhood has been destroyed by the sudden appearance of trees. When I say trees, I’m talking about Triffids on some serious juice.
A chance encounter with Hannah and Seb and a few conversations later, they all decide to set out on a journey across the country to find Hannah’s brother Zach who is a specialist and lover of all things agricultural. We also find out that Adrien wants to get to Ireland to be with his wife, who is there on business (and whom he suspects is having an affair).
It is only when they start to venture out that they come to understand the full brevity and devastating effect of the tree invasion.
It’s here that Ali Shaw blew me out of the water, his mastery of description brings this world to life. One could easily imagine that this fictional world had been created by the great master of mythology, JRR Tolkien. This is a testament to how well Shaw pulls off the mythical, visionary and fantastical and in doing so, creates an epic landscape of imaginary creatures, beasts, whisperers and some damn right dodgy characters. His brilliant characterisations immediately compel us to empathise with and care for each of the people we meet along the way. For me, this is reminiscent of Peter Benchley’s characters in his novels, such as Jaws. Another reason I loved this book so much.
When on the road (or forest) our group of travellers befriend the wonderfully deep and exotic Hiroko (and later, her pet fox). If you didn’t fall in love with her at first, the way she bravely holds her own in a world now carved up by robbers, beasts and hunters alike, you will at least nurture an admiration for her.
As the band of explorers arrive at Zak’s house we find out that things are not going to be as straightforward as the group anticipated. They arrive to find that Zach has been gruesomely murdered and soon discover that someone other than Zach has been staying at the house and they are about to discover who that was.
Enter the Gunman and all hell breaks loose. This part of the novel is utterly compelling and I could not put the book down. It is a masterstroke by Ali Shaw to successfully ramp up the tension, bringing characters to breaking point and then SNAP; the band of misfits are forever changed and one of them will have to struggle with their choice until the final pages of the book.
With all lost, the group discuss about staying, about giving up, but the passion to move forward and get Adrien to his wife gives them all enough hope to strive on.
So they set off, venturing through more forest than you could shake a stick at, eventually arriving at an English coast that is reminiscent of a refugee camp. After befriending the lovable Eoin, they find a way to cross the perilous channel.
This book is utterly unlike anything else I have ever read. I am going to stop talking about it now so as not to ruin the final act of this beautifully woven story, which in many ways I never wanted to end.
Ali Shaw has created a tremendously profound, totally compelling tale that I cannot recommend highly enough.
But who are the Whisperers and what sits on the throne? Will they make it to Ireland and will they find Adrien’s wife? You’ll have to read this magnificent book and find out for yourself.
The Trees was published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 10th March 2016.
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Review by Ross Jeffery