Fallen Land | Author: Taylor Brown | Rating: 10/11 |
Dystopian literature has enjoyed a surge in popularity recently, with sagas such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent series captivating audiences both on the page and on the big screen. The genre often has plenty to say about the current political climate of the world, but still maintains a surreal and distant feeling by taking place in the far-off future or in even more remote fantasy worlds that only parallel our own. In Fallen Land, (on St. Martin’s Press), Taylor Brown achieves something new with the genre. His devastatingly beautiful historical dystopia takes place during the American Civil War, proving that reality is often just as surreal as fiction.
Set in and around Sherman’s infamous march to the coast during the final months of the conflict, Fallen Land tells the story of two youths, Callum and Ava, and their desperate flight across the war-torn South. Wrongly accused of the murder of a disgraced army colonel, Callum joins forces with Ava, the girl he failed to protect from the colonel’s advances. Together, they must try to outrun and out-survive the dead colonel’s brother, a notoriously savage bounty hunter, and the ragtag band of outlaws who previously made up the colonel’s ‘command.’ Hungry for the bounty the colonel left posthumously on the head of whoever killed him, the men relentlessly hunt Ava, Callum and Ava’s unborn child through the hostile wilderness. As the youths flee for the anticipated safety of Union lines, they realize that they are falling in love – which, given the circumstances, is as much a source of despair as it is a source of hope.
Brown’s story is both horrific and beautiful, which is what makes it so powerful. The prose is breathtaking, evocative, and gorgeously descriptive. Brown not only successfully recreates a moment in time, he breathes life into that slice of the past and makes it almost tactile. The relationship between the two protagonists develops in a refreshingly real, organic way, giving the relatively straight-forward tale true depth and feeling. The horror in the story comes from the pieces of it which aren’t fiction at all: Sherman’s brutal path of fire and destruction to the sea, the hollow, empty wasteland of the ravaged South and the living ghosts of the men and women left empty-handed and desperate in the wake of the war. Brown certainly isn’t the first person to write about the Civil War, but he has managed to capture the period in a way that very few before him have. Readers will genuinely ache for his unfortunate characters. It is the South itself, however, in all its unspeakable savagery and unexpected moments of tenderness, that will really break your heart.
Fallen Land is a stark, gruesome snapshot of Civil War America, but it is also a portrait of all that is enduring about the human spirit. A woman surveying the wreckage of a town outside of Atlanta laments all the art that won’t be created now because of the war, and Brown certainly shows us the very worst parts of humanity, brought to light by the nature of the conflict. But, in Ava and Callum, he has also shown us the best: two orphans forged in the very heart of the conflict, not stainless and certainly not pure, but who seem to carry all the light that’s left in the world on their shoulders as they gallop hard through the darkness.
Masterfully written, Fallen Land is only Brown’s second novel. We certainly hope that it will not be his last.