The One by Nora Roberts
I came to Nora Roberts as a reader through a trilogy of book about modern day witches and whilst I cooled on her more straight romance books after a period of bingeing in my early twenties, I felt pretty sure that a post apocalyptic saga with supernatural elements was going to be a winner.
A disease born of an unfortunate avian death within the confines of a Scottish Highlands standing stones. This life sacrificed unleashes a Flu like contagion that wipes out 70% of the human population. This culling leaves the way free for latent Powers to manifest themselves, Fairies , Elves, witches and Seers are all brought into the light as their immunity to the scourge brings their existence into relief.
This magical renaissance provides an opportunity for Roberts to demonstrate the human capacity to rail against that which is different and probably most frightening in today’s political and social climate - mirroring real life, soon some are playing on and exploiting these fears to act on darker tendencies, firmly held prejudices and just plain evil to take and destroy. Where magical ability coalesces with this darkness another enemy rises.
Here we have the central premise then, light versus Dark. Fear versus Hope and Faith. There are the normal symbols for post apocalyptic tales, that of miraculous births, of prophesied saviours who will meet the coming battle for humanity, ably aided by a ragtag band of ordinary and extraordinary folk at their backs.
What makes a sprawling epic such as this work, is relatable characters. You can have as much calamity and horror as you like, but if you do not care about the people being subjected to the trial, it just will not work. Thankfully Roberts has created a raft of characters in her central “Cast” that made me care deeply and there were several early characters I was willing to at least get to the end of this first book in the series!
I have to admit to noticing a number of very close similarities to the book that I consider the seminal work in this area of fiction, Stephen King’s The Stand. The idea of the turning on committees, of getting the power back on were very familiar, of vehicle convoys arriving at a town quite literally called New Hope, I had seen before.
That being said (and who is to say it is a bad thing, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all!) this first book was thoroughly absorbing. I look forward to seeing what Nora Roberts does to distinguish this from other post plague stories and how she uses her varied characters to further the saga. I would be most interested to learn how the opening relates to the future as it seems the curse described on the lips of a highland croftess has been forgotten in the scope of the tale and I hope she manages to bring it back in somehow for my own feeling of completeness.
A strong four stars for this opener