What can I say about Defender that other, better, people haven’t said before me? John Connolly says, “Worthy to take its place alongside The Stand” and he’s underplaying it. Lee Child, when he says, “Altogether extraordinary” isn’t really doing it justice either. Because Defender is one of those absolute rarities – a book by a debut author that is genuinely mind-blowing.
Defender is the first book in a four book series and takes place seven years (I think) after what is presumably a global event. What that event was hasn’t been explained yet but it is the world GX Todd has created that allows you to dive right in and not expect immediate answers. Defender follows two people – Lacey, a teenage girl, and Pilgrim, a grizzled, motorcycle riding loner. The two meet at the side of a dusty road and are forever bound. I won’t tell you how as this would be a spoiler but needless to say, it isn’t just a grumpy man – stroppy teenager odd-couple type relationship they have. There are forces at play that probably won’t be explained until much later in the series but when you read Defender you’ll realise that’s fine. There are some things you don’t want to know just yet.
Pilgrim agrees to help Lacey travel to another city to find her sister and for most parts of the book, Defender is a road trip – albeit one through nightmarish landscape (think the early seasons of The Walking Dead when the group were constantly moving about). On the way they meet some hellish characters and some of their victims – one of whom, Alex, may or not play a larger role in future books. Defender doesn’t pull its punches either – there are descriptions of torture, murder, incest and anything else you’d expect to find in a world gone to shit. It never glorifies or lingers on the more disturbing parts but they do lend the world GX Todd has created a frighteningly realistic atmosphere.
There are elements of Stephen King’s The Stand in it. It takes place after an apocalyptic event and it looks like there are various factions seeking to take control of this new, grim world. The event that wipes out most of humanity isn’t a disease (I don’t think) but voices that some people hear (inside their heads) suggesting they do things. Most of them bad…
And there are elements of The Walking Dead. It’s zombie-less (for now at least, I’ve no clue what the 4-book series will bring in the future) but the human survivors act like they do for 16 Monday evenings a year (Sunday evenings for American readers). There was even a Negan-type character controlling a band of ruthless and altogether survivors. But it’s so much more than The Walking Dead.
There are also hints at what’s to come. The Flitterman. Voices that jump from head to head. Lacey’s seven-year-old niece who somehow survived for three years on her own. All posed questions – none of them were answered.
In short Defender is right up there with the best of what I’ve read in 2016, and although t’s not officially out until January 2017, signed, limited editions are available now through Goldsboro Books. It’s their book of the month and I don’t blame them one bit.
Buy it. You will not regret it.