A strong follow-up to the emotionally gripping Irradiated with a narrative that unravels at the end.
Degenerated continues the story of Pearl, a mutant transformed by the after effects of a nuclear war, and her struggle to keep her humanity in a brutal landscape. It also tracks a new character, Flynn, who lives in the tunnels and is trying to keep his mutant abilities in check while surviving each day. It’s a harrowing book with an unflinching vision of the inhumanity men and women will inflict against each other if their lives are at stake. It also takes a much harder look at the effects of power and what it does to people, societies and cultural structures.
There were several things I really loved about this work:
1. The action sequences. These are a lot tighter than in Irradiated and felt very real. At points I had to put the book down or take a small mental break from what was about to happen.
2. Pearl’s character. In the first novel of the trilogy, Pearl felt more like a plot device for her sister, Jade. In this one she comes in to her own. She makes decisions, realises the limits of her choices and comes to grip with how the world is versus how she wants it to be.
3. The internal politics of the tunnel. The world building of the tunnel and its economy is so great. This fantastic world is one that could exist, that could occur if the world descended into destruction.
4. The slimming down of the prose. In Irradiated I enjoyed the writing and its lyrical quality, but sometimes it felt so dense that I got tired and struggled to continue reading it. With Degenerated that problem is gone. It flows, but it doesn’t feel as dense. I punched through this work in two 40-minute train rides and a little reading at home, it was seamless.
When I finished it, I originally rated it as a 4-star novel because even though some things niggled at me, I really, really liked where the story was going. After a week of playing around with the novel in my head, I (very reluctantly) moved it into my 3-three star column. Here’s why:
1. The end of Pearl’s journey in this novel feels forced. The last few chapters seem to strip away her character and be placeholders for the author’s voice. They become a series of internal musings about life and how things are, but not from a person who has lived through the life she endured.
2. Without (attempting) to give anything away, the final decisions of the main characters at the end don’t align with their previous actions. Their morality becomes theoretical instead of practical like in the rest of the novel. As the story moves to its ultimate showdown, it becomes less and less akin to a survivalist novel of independence, and more like an X-men comic where freedom unites to triumph over terror.
In essence, in the last 10%, I became disconnected from what was happening and uninvolved. I found this strange because of all the works I’ve read by S. Elliot Brandis, this is the only one I’ve done that with.
A (mostly) gripping follow-up novel that delivers on the original’s premise. It unfolds along the lines of two survivalists’ stories, but gets caught up with its own main thesis and narrative needs at the end. With crisp action, gritty realism and a dark vision for the future, Degenerated is worth your time if X-men is too PG or you enjoy dystopian fiction.
S. Elliot Brandis and I used to belong to the same writing club.