“The Takers” – by R. W. Ridley

Cover ImageThe secret is not to let them know you’re aware of them. Keep quiet. Keep moving. And whatever you do, don’t speak their name. 

The Takers is set in a contemporary Earth which has somehow been invaded by creatures that have devoured nearly all the population. It has a post-apocalyptic feel, a landscape with empty houses and abandoned cars strewn along highways. The atmosphere is heavy with silence and the dread of these marauding creatures, who appear when acknowledged to consume any in their path.

Oz Griffin wakes up after a week in the delirium of illness, to find his house empty with no sign of his parents. As he searches his neighbourhood for people and answers, he stumbles across several terrifying creatures prowling the area, alerting him to an immediate danger and providing the dreadful clues to what might have happened to his local community.

He decides to mount an expedition to his uncle’s home in another district. With his German Shepherd and a car he doesn’t know how to drive, he sets off on a journey that evolves over the course of the book into an epic mission to defeat these predatory creatures and restore his world.

I liked the idea of this story. It remained dark, while not presenting any material that I felt unsuitable for younger adults. It delivers plenty of adventure, action and suspense. I was intrigued by the author’s use of the disabled in the story, in particular those with Down Syndrome. I think challenging the perceptions of the reader, by presenting these characters in an unexpected role, can be a powerful tool to refocus awareness. This is not to imply that this story takes a particularly heavy-handed or didactic approach, just that playing with perceptions can sometimes elicit a consideration from the reader that may not have otherwise been triggered.

With a German Shepherd, a small gang of survivors, a particularly wise gorilla, a comic book and hordes of enemies, as mysterious as they are vicious, this is a vividly imagined adventure in a dark world. The only thing I didn’t really appreciate was the plot mechanism used to end the story. It left me a little deflated after enjoying the majority of the novel.

Griffin is an interesting character for a young adult fantasy in the sense that he is an anti-hero. Nothing could alienate the reader from Oz more than the opening sentences of the book:

We killed the retarded boy. He took his own life, but we killed him just the same.

It’s a bold move by the author to cast such a dark shadow on the character with which the reader is going to take this journey. The approach seems vaguely reminiscent of Stephen Donaldson’s portrayal of Thomas Covenant – one of the most infamous anti-heroes in the fantasy genre, but translated into a form that a younger reader can appreciate: bullying, the antagonism of children with disabilities and the potential result.

The book focuses on Griffin’s redemption and the continued influence of Stevie Dayton almost as a manifestation of his guilt. We experience the character’s growth over the course of the story and the qualities within him, previously used to inflict pain on Dayton, are gradually transformed into a positive force.

I had no issues with the prose in this novel. It was very readable, managed to generate the right atmosphere and was dark without being too dark given its target audience. There were no noticeable errors in the text, nor did I stumble across clunky expressions or word misuse.

The Takers is the first book of a series of novels called The Oz Chronicles. As of this review, there are six books, so if you like the first, there’s quite a bit of material to move on with.

The Takers was the recipient of the 2006 IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards) for Horror, with the second instalment, Délon City, taking a bronze IPPY in the subsequent year.

Rating: 4/5

Price at the time of review: $1.99 US

Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Author site: http://rwridley.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/201819.The_Takers

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