By Simon Spurrier

Reviewed by Alison Littlewood

The Culled opens in the heart of the action and the middle of a crisis, all described in the distinctive first person voice of the main character. He's trapped in a plane with his companion, Bella, and they are about to crash.

The opening chapter neatly introduces two memorable characters in a compelling situation, and establishes the desire to read on. It also sketches in the back story. Our character, who remains nameless throughout, is an ex-military secret service agent, now engaged in a clandestine attempt to land a stolen plane at La Guardia. This is set against the background of The Cull--a mass outbreak of a virus deadly to all except the lucky few with a specific blood type.

Society has broken down and chaos rules, allowing certain leaders and groups to try and fill the void. Survivors have clustered around them, seeking a return to community and stability. The chief of these groups is the neo-clergy, a bunch of religious fanatics seeking a new dawn at any cost.

Our main character clashes with them from the start, since it is their aeroplane he has stolen. Luckily he survives their less than lukewarm reception, with the help of a defector called Nate and a forced blood transfusion from a dying enemy. In a fortunate side effect of The Cull, it turns out that everyone's a donor.

Spurrier cleverly plants questions in the reader's mind throughout. Why did the neo-clergy want to know where the children are? It seems they take them from their parents and fly them to this very place, but why? What is the meaning of the incoming signal that drove our main character to La Guardia, that spoke of the mysterious 'Project Pandora'? How has the Abbot, leader of the clergy, managed to survive the cull despite having the wrong blood type? The early threads of the plot are skilfully laid, building anticipation.

These questions are put aside with the introduction of a new character, alternatively named Rick or Hiawatha. He's an Iroquois tribesman, part of another community on which the survivors could build a prospective future. He's on a mission given to him by the elders, who with mystical forethought have sent him off with certain items he must use along the way. One by one they come into play, demonstrating their wisdom--they are portrayed as visionaries, living life by a kind of mysticism deeper and more valid than the ways of the neo-clergy, who hang onto their power with guns, drugs, and empty words.

It seems Rick/Hiawatha's mission directly involves our main character and gradually, their fates begin to draw closer together. We have shifts in viewpoint, contrasting Hiawatha's 'dream-sense' and idealism with our main character's no-bullshit brutality and ruthlessness. As Hiawatha grows in understanding, we too begin to realise that our main character has changes to make, and that their fates are going to lead to an ultimate clash with the Abbot.

Despite the occasional mildly irritating stray hyphen, Spurrier's story is told in confident prose, with some vivid and distinctive description. There are occasional moments that seemed a little clichéd; the rag-tag assortment of cars on offer reminded me of Mad Max, while Nate's ending seemed perhaps a little too neat. There is, however, a lively plot, and just enough sub-plot to lend deeper interest and shed light on the characters without slowing the pace.

The nature of the plot inevitably invites comparison with Stephen King's The Stand, but here Spurrier manages to construct his own scenario. His focus on the aftermath of The Cull rather than the progress of the disease itself, his smaller cast, and his unique voice give this book a distinctive flavour.

He also gives us a novel that is well constructed, being rounded enough to constitute a satisfying read in its own right, whilst leaving enough open to lead into the forthcoming sequel.

The Culled by Simon Spurrier. Paperback, 379 pp, £6.99. Published by Abaddon Books and available in all good bookshops, or online from Amazon

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