Survivors by G X Todd

October 25, 2019

Please note, Survivors is the third book in an ongoing series. If you haven’t read books one and two then what follows is likely to contain some potentially spoilery type elements. Consider yourself duly warned. 

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who hear voices, and those who want to silence them.

Pilgrim is a man with a past he can’t remember. When he wakes alone in a shallow grave, there is a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. It explains who he is and what he’s done. It tells him he has one purpose: to find a girl named Lacey.

As Pilgrim is drawn north to Missouri in search of Lacey, he must also travel back to where it all began – to those he left behind. War is coming, and Pilgrim is going to need all the allies he can get.

Chances are that if you’re reading this, then you’ve already discovered this series of books and, like me, you’ve been waiting eagerly for Survivors to arrive. The good news is that the wait has been well worth it. G X Todd is back with another slice of post-apocalyptic drama, and it delivers on every page.

Book three of The Voices is a rare treat, especially if you’re a fan of everyone’s favourite taciturn enigma, Pilgrim. At its heart this book is his story. There is nothing quite so much fun as a mystery, and I think it’s fair to say that historically Pilgrim has fallen squarely into that category. Previously, there have been some very deliberate gaps in his backstory, but in Survivors the author begins to fill in these blanks. It’s the thing I like most about Todd’s writing, her ability to lay her characters bare. Pilgrim’s journey has become as much about the internal as external. We get to follow a man who has been broken at the most fundamental level as he rebuilds himself from the ground up. For many, the arrival of the voices spelled violence, death and destruction; for Pilgrim it was quite the opposite. Their coming resulted in his release from a troubled past. It’s a truly fascinating process to watch as he begins to understand where he has come from and, more importantly, where he is going. Pilgrim is just one of many names this man has used. Each previous incarnation he reconnects with takes him one more step to becoming whole, to becoming the person he was always meant to be. Throughout all this, he is driven on by the ghost of Lacey. Unsure, but grimly determined, Pilgrim knows she is special to him in some way and that he needs to do everything he can to find her.

I hadn’t considered this previously*, but a thought struck me about halfway through reading this novel. There is an introspective quality to this apocalypse which allows the author to explore concepts like the nature of mental health and how being trapped in our own heads affects each one of us.  I’m always impressed with any story that leaves me with plenty to think about and Survivors has done exactly that.

If you look at other examples apocalyptic drama, The Walking Dead for example, it works best when the focus turns directly toward the characters. The details of the world ending become almost secondary. It’s the actions and reactions to a situation that has never been experienced before that I always become enthralled by. Defender, Hunted and now Survivor achieve that same level of insight into character motivation.

The timeline of the novel flits between two different time periods. We finally learn where Pilgrim was when the changes in society began. There are revelations aplenty and I have to admit I was particularly pleased with the way Todd’s narrative played around with my expectations. I’m a terrible one for trying to predict where an author will go with a plot and it always cheers me when I get it entirely wrong. When a writer takes the care to create such nuanced characters, like Pilgrim, it’s a joy to watch them evolve before your eyes.

Events end with a tantalising glimpse of a conflict in the offing. Sides are being drawn and it is only a matter of time before events will come to a head. The Flitting Man is still out there somewhere and someday soon there is going to have to be a reckoning.

Survivors confirms what I already knew. This novel easily holds its own against my favourite novels in the genre. The Voices is shaping up to be just as epic is its literary predecessors. I’ve re-read Swan Song, The Stand, Blood Crazy and Station Eleven on more than one occasion. I suspect in the future I’ll be doing exactly the same with this series. If you’re a fan of insightful post-apocalyptic fiction that explores the human condition, then you need to add G X Todd to your reading list.

In a break from what has become a tradition, I don’t have a musical recommendation to accompany Survivors. I think in this instance I may have managed to go one better. I was fortunate enough to read Survivors while on an epic thousand-mile road trip in the US. I can confirm that out in the wilds of Maine, on lonely forest roads, is the perfect location to be reading about the end of the world. I kept expecting to see Pilgrim wander around the corner at any moment. Never more so than when we stayed in a cabin, by a lake in the middle of nowhere. Talk about adding an extra layer of atmosphere to the reading experience.

Survivors is published by Headline and is available from 31st October. Highly recommended.

*Yup, fashionably late as ever. Got there eventually though.

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