When I came across this debut novel by Matt Mayr I was excited to give it a try. Some of you may have gathered that I really enjoy books of a dystopian theme, so picking up this book was a no-brainer for me.
In the violent world of post-apocalyptic South Town, Eli Baxter is king, ruling from the thirteenth floor of his building while henchman do his bidding. Simon Gray, a talented young thief, now disillusioned with South Town, is desperate to escape with the woman he loves. As he plots their journey north, glimpses of his childhood in South India and Northern Ontario reveal the world as it once was, fueling his desire to break away. But when he’s handed a new job, one that will make Eli untouchable, Simon realizes that escape – and transcendence to love and a peaceful way of life – might be harder than he thought.
Dark, atmospheric, and gritty, Bad City is the debut novel by Matt Mayr and was a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.
“Degrees of blood and violence like a shockwave of radiation, an eternal extension of the darkness that came hard and fast when the river poured into the city.”
The book follows Simon, a highly skilled thief, recruited by Eli Baxter to steal an object from his rival Fisher. The object in question will make his rule of South Town undeniable. Simon has an unusual childhood background in that his parents left the City to become independent. As a child, Simon hated this, but surrounded by the violence and corruption of the city following the Flood, it becomes his dream to escape and live in the cabin owned by his parents.
My initial thoughts when I read this book was that if South Town was truly that awful, there should be more atrocities going on. It almost seemed to me that whilst there was a certain degree of violence and depravity going on in the background, the focus was only on those caused by the main characters of the book. Given that these cities and the population are ruled using fear of what lies beyond these “safe” havens, I think this could have been played up more… almost made to be a little bit casual in a way, so it seems like a regular occurrence. The casual attitude should not play it down – the reader will be shocked regardless because this behaviour is not what they are used to.
Simon as our main character is well developed. Not only does the narration of the current events tell us about Simon’s personality… we also get flashbacks to his life as a child, how he came to be a thief and his influences in growing up. I think his aims are common in that he wishes to escape but for the most part, he doesn’t have the means to live a self sustainable life. When he meets and falls in love with Eva, who has access to seeds for crops, they stand a real chance of getting away.
In my opinion, Eva is the most underdeveloped character of the book. Admittedly, she doesn’t feature too much or do anything really important in terms of moving the plot along, but I would like to know her a little better. What makes her unafraid to wander the streets alone when every other woman has a male chaperone? Would she have not had trouble at the market in being charged extra by an uncooperative seller before Simon comes along? I wish there was a bit more background to her.
I actually quite like Anton. Whilst he is a man hell bent on revenge, I can relate to him a lot. He strikes me as the type that takes a lot to make him angry, but once he snaps, that’s it. I can kind of relate to that as I am much the same way; I might bite someone’s head off, don’t murder people, I promise!!
Every character’s motives and ideas are justified by their history and current position. I imagine that it must be difficult to establish characters and make them believable when putting them in a situation unlike a more familiar setting we know today, but Mayr achieves this reasonably well.
Without giving anything away, I think the plot flowed very well and the transitions between present day and the “flashbacks” were not difficult to follow. As well as it flowed, it didn’t necessarily pan out the way I first expected, but it was all the better for it. If anybody else out there loves this genre of book, I absolutely recommend it to read. There’s death, there’s violence and there’s corruption, but let us not forget, in the darkest of times there is always hope of something better.