Author: Lisa Hinsley
No. of Pages: 200
Genre: Science Fiction
Origins: Pocket Star
Release Date: 9 December 2013
Bottom Line: Frightening depiction of the breakdown of society
“In this enthralling debut thriller written in the vein of Contagion, a young couple struggles to save their plague–stricken son as they desperately fight back against a tyrannical government.
A new strain of the bubonic plague is diagnosed in London. Before it can be contained it spreads through the population, faster and deadlier than anyone could have imagined. Three weeks is all it takes to decimate the country.
Johnny and Liz are devastated when their young son, Nathan, starts to show symptoms, but Liz phones the authorities anyway, and a few hours later the army arrives and boards up their house.
Now Nathan is dying and there is nothing they can do to help him. Hours pass like weeks as their little boy grows weaker and weaker. All Liz wants is for them to die with some dignity, but the authorities refuse to help. Then their Internet and phones stop working. Cut off from the world and stuck inside their house, the family tries its best to cope—but there is nothing they can do to stop the lethal epidemic.”
Thoughts: Plague is a great imagining of the disintegration of society in the wake of a pandemic. Johnny and Liz’s reactions to their son’s illness and to the shrinking world around them are uncomfortable in their accuracy and realism. The power of the story however lies not within their roiling emotions but to the feeling of impotence. Theirs is a situation about which they can do nothing, about which the government can do little, and for which there is almost no hope. As frustrated as Liz and Johnny may become, a reader feels that much worse because s/he recognizes the futility of that frustration. It is not a tyrannical government that boards up their house so much as a desperate government with few options of preventing the spread of the pandemic and even fewer resources. Their actions are the very definition of sacrificing a few for the greater good, regardless of how futile their efforts prove to be in the end.
What makes Plague so scary is not the government’s actions but rather the psychological impact of being cut off from society while facing death. Liz’s feelings are extremely distressing to watch unravel and descend into the depths of despair. Mothers everywhere will ache with Liz’s sense of hopelessness at not being able to help ease the pain holding her loved ones hostage and will envision their own reactions to a similar scenario with shudders and furtive prayers of gratitude that it is just a work of fiction. The idea of having to face everything alone, without the ability to call friends or family for comfort or take a walk to get a bit of a break, is true horror. Liz experiences every mother’s nightmare tenfold given the circumstances in which she finds herself.
As gruesome as Plague is in its depiction of a long-ago disease made modern and the extreme measures people will take to protect their loved ones and as bleak a picture as Ms. Hinsley creates about society’s relatively easy and very quick collapse in the face of a major catastrophe, Plague does end with a sliver of hope. No matter how terrible things may get, humankind will always find some way to survive, and the story of Plague is no different. Humans survive; it is what they do best. It then becomes a matter of not letting the terrible events completely bury one with grief but rather overcoming those terrible events through determination and a refusal to quit hoping.