It’s been a long journey to ‘ The Last Soldier’. I have had this book on my Kindle since release day but have only just got around to reading it. There are, I think, two reasons for this: Number one is that I have taken on way too many reviews (hence why I closed my review submissions) and despite my fast reading, I had fallen way behind on books that I wanted to read, books that I have bought with my hard-earned cash. Reason number two is a little more tricky. Hawkins previous book ‘The Last Outpost’ was my favorite read of 2015 and I was kind of scared that this wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Not that I didn’t have faith in Hawkins writing ability, but simply because I enjoyed ‘ The Last Outpost’ Soooooooo much, how could I possibly enjoy this one equally so?
Well, things get off to a wonderful start with the introduction of two thoroughly engaging characters in Morse; a soldier still haunted by his past, plagued by visions of a man on fire from his time served in Northern Ireland and then there is Florence; a young girl whom Morse accompanies and protects as they travel south through the wasteland hoping to steer clear of the plague-ravaged beasts that roam the streets and countryside. The country is getting worse (if that is possible?!). The plague continues to transform and mutate anything and everything in its path, leaving families and friends in ruins as it goes. Hawkins characters shine, once again and his vivid descriptions will certainly test your gag reflex! One scene involving a pit proves to be particularly stomach-churning.
As with ‘The Last Outpost’ I found myself lost inside this novel, churning up the pages. It isn’t easy reading. It is bleak, unpleasant, uncompromising, dark, gloomy and any other adjective you can think of used to describe the absolute horror of a country turned into a living hell for those few that remain. It’s the characters what make ‘The Last Soldier’ really shine. As with ‘The Last Outpost’, Hawkins has given us two unlikely companions in Morse and Florence, both are reeling from their losses but comfortable with each others company. The dialogue is excellent, very natural and never once did it feel forced. The conversations between the two main characters are often short but handled extremely well.
I have read an insane amount of post-apocalyptic fiction over the years and none have been able to project the sheer desperation and hopelessness that Hawkins does. As you read this book you get the uneasy feeling that there will be no happy ending. ‘The Last Soldier’ builds and builds until the final couple of chapters which are absolutely superb. A stand-off, and a meeting with something from the very darkest depths of Hawkins imagination conclude what has been an epic journey spread over the three books. The Plague trilogy are books that I can see myself dipping into again, something I rarely do. The progression from the first book has been superb and by the time I’d finished the final book I was as exhausted as poor Morse.
If you are yet to sample the works of Rich Hawkins then book 1 of the plague trilogy is a great place to start. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction then there are very, very few better right now in my opinion. Epic stuff.
Buy a copy of this excellent book from here.
There is an excellent Ltd Ed Hardback containing all 3 Plague books available from Crowded Quarantine Publications – All are signed and lettered!