It’s a post-apocalyptic world in Red Queen. A super virus, known as the Red Queen Virus has wiped out huge parts of the population and Shannon and Rohan Scott have retreated to their family’s remote cabin with enough supplies to attempt to wait out the plague. They keep to themselves, tending a small flock of sheep and chickens, fishing in a nearby river and rationing out the supplies their survivalist father stockpiled for the possibility of this very sort of event.
Shannon and Rohan are almost 15 years apart in age and their relationship is a fraught one, especially due to time spent in close proximity with each other. They are together out of necessity, out of a desire to survive and the arrival of Denny, a woman who says she has been bunking down in a nearby cabin, threatens their fragile bonds. Shannon is happy to welcome Denny into their household right away, it’s clear she’s only just surviving, she’s thin and doesn’t seem to have the knowledge or the supplies that they do. Rohan however is harder, takes more convincing and he’s more cautious about accepting her into the house. Shannon can’t understand his reluctance, but Denny ends up staying which complicates everything.
Shannon is drawn to her from the beginning but it is Rohan’s bed that Denny goes to, with Shannon often left to lay awake alone and hear. However it isn’t long before Denny indicates her openness to include Shannon, although Rohan lays down some rules about when and what they’re allowed to do. The dynamics in the cabin shift and change as Denny presses against them, Shannon champions her causes and Rohan remains stern and unyielding in what he will and will not allow people to do.
Just who is in charge here?
Red Queen is yet another recommendation from the fabulous ALPHA Reader blog. I read a previous Honey Brown book, her most recent, After The Darkness, earlier this year after reading Danielle’s review. I made a mental note to track down her other two but it wasn’t until I saw Danielle’s review of this one that I actually grabbed them both from the library.
This book is right up my alley – I love this sort of story line. The post-apocalyptic world is one of my very favourite settings and has been for a very long time. And I like even more that this one is set in Australia, which has endless options for fleeing into the bush if ever some sort of super virus such as this invades our shores and infiltrates our cities. Shannon and Rohan’s existence is idyllic given the circumstances. Their father’s clever forward thinking means they have a pretty well equipped cabin that has both power and hot water, although it’s unclear exactly how long this would last for. Rohan is a dictator – he is clearly in charge, delegating tasks to Shannon and accepting no dissent within the ranks. Denny’s appearance, the fact that she was able to sneak up on them without being seen, puts Rohan out. He doesn’t want any strangers whatsoever, but Shannon is softer. He’s tired of having just Rohan for company and he definitely wants Denny to move in to their cabin and become part of their lives. Denny is between Shannon and Rohan in age, around 29 or 30 and she’s extremely skilled at the way in which she approaches Shannon. Shannon is lonely, resentful of his more authoritarian brother and Denny slips in and exploits his weaknesses perfectly until there’s very little he wouldn’t do for her. This doesn’t stop her sleeping with Rohan, often taunting him with it and teasing him when Rohan isn’t around.
I already know from After The Darkness that Honey Brown writes pyschological thrillers that are more than just a great read, they make me think. After The Darkness made me question human nature and just how far we will all go to protect ourselves and our own interests. This one does that too in a way – some of the things that Rohan does, to both Shannon and Denny seem extreme. But at the same time, they also made a lot of sense. People aren’t going to survive this horrible virus by being complacent and by randomly allowing anyone wandering close by into their camp. Rohan is tough and at first he just seems like a total douche but Brown manages to really skillfully flesh him out, giving him depth and layers, a stress level about the things that he must do and the responsibility he feels for Shannon, who might be 23 but basically tends to act much younger. That isn’t Shannon’s fault, he’s lived a pretty easy life up until the viral outbreak and I think at times because Rohan takes such good care of him, instilling in him the illusion that life is still easy, his eyes are closed to the dangers that lurk pretty much everywhere.
This is a fabulously tautly written novel, full of twists and turns – some of which I just never saw coming but everything still came together so wonderfully and made sense. There were times when I couldn’t believe what I was reading – I love books that give you those sort of moments! Trust was a flimsy thing and I went back and forth between characters, offering sympathy and understanding and then retracting it. Red Queen is a clever story and definitely one that will stay with me. I have one more book left to read from this author and I can’t wait to get to it.
Book #117 of 2012
Red Queen is the 42nd book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge