A review of Remnant, by Kate Genet

READ DECEMBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “What would you do if you woke up one morning to find the world you took for granted was gone?

It’s a beautiful sunny day when Cass wakes up to find herself alone. It should be just a normal day – there’s a beach to enjoy with family and friends and the summer is at it’s height. Except today is not a normal day. Today there is no one around. In fact, the only living creatures Cass can see are birds. And a horse. Where is everyone?
As Cass struggles to find other survivors in this strange new world where nature is taking back the land, she discovers that being alone might not be the worst thing. It depends on who or what else is out there…”

MY REVIEW: Having read all four books in Kate Genet’s Michaela & Trisha series, and loved them, because of the great characters and intriguing plots, I figured it was time to dip into the well of that author’s offerings again. If nothing else, it would be a nice change of pace from the rather gritty murder mysteries and urban fantasy I usually read. So, having just finished Randye Lordon’s Say Uncle and Seanan McGuire’s Late Eclipses, it seemed the perfect time to open Genet’s Remnant, and I’m quite glad I made that choice.

Did I like Remnant as well as the Michaela & Trisha novels? Well, that’s kind of an apples and oranges comparison, and not a very fruitful one (pun intended), either. Let’s just say I liked it a lot, and I think it would appeal to readers with a range of literary tastes, which is one of the hallmarks of a good writer.

I started reading science-fiction at around 14 years, 10 or 11 if Tom Swift, Jr. counts, and, I became a confirmed feminist after reading Joanna Russ’s story, “When It Changed” in the early seventies. I love stories that combine the two elements. While Remnant isn’t science-fiction, per se — it involves more the supernatural — it does share certain elements with the apocalyptic part of that genre. Nor does Remnant wear its feminism on its sleeve, so to speak, but its feminist stance seems pervasive though never mentioned overtly. (Yeah, I am a feminist, but I hate the shrill, preachy variety of that particular “-ism.”)

The premise of Remnant is an interesting one: What if you woke up and everyone had disappeared, machines no longer worked, and wild plant and tree growth threatened to overtake everydamnthing? Well, easy answer: You freak the fuck out. Still, freaking out over with, you try to cope. You don’t really have a choice. You figure out how to get food, medicine, shelter, clothing. Eventually, though, you realize you need one thing more: other people, or even just one other person. That’s the situation that Cass, the protagonist of Remnant, is faced with. (Yeah, folks, I ended a sentence with a preposition. Deal.)

And, even with all that, the ante is upped again by an ancient overwhelming “Other,” a presence which Cass feels is stalking her. And, guess what, no matter how much you’ve got it together, how much you’ve begun to create some semblance of a new life, you freak out again, and you realize maybe the freaking out really isn’t over even then. And, guess what, (again) it’s okay.

One of the things I like most about Cass is that she does freak out; she even contemplates shuffling off this mortal coil, aided by spoils from the local pharmacy. But, then, freak-out done, at least for the moment, she gets on with doing what needs doing. The freaking-out makes her more human — I mean, who wouldn’t? — and the squaring of shoulders and turning to the tasks at hand makes her admirable; both qualities combine to help us relate to her and to root her on.

I also like her attitude vis-à-vis the animal kingdom. Despite all the issues she faces, like, ya know, staying alive, she goes to the local zoo to free any trapped animals, releasing tuataras in a nearby park and taking starving kiwis home to nurse. I can’t imagine myself even thinking of doing that in a similar situation, and it really cements in my mind the sort of person Cass is. In fact, accepting the premise of old gods cleansing the earth and saving only a few in a new Eden, her concern for other creatures may be why she was one of the ones selected to remain when the others vanished. It’s a nice subtle message.

Even more interesting is Cass’s relationship with Ezzy, a horse who is, for a long time, the only other living creature around save for a plenitude of birds. Cass treats Ezzy very much as an equal rather than a beast of burden. She recognizes that they need each other if they’re to survive. In a sense, Ezzy seems to realize this, too. When Cass talks to Ezzy as if the horse were a person, it’s not the signs of someone losing her grip on reality, but more an understanding, and an acceptance of her/their situation. It’s one of the story’s many highlights.

***SPOILER ALERT*** Yes, Cass does finally find another human. The relationship between her and Pania seems a little rushed, but not so much to distract from the enjoyment of the story. Still, I wish we’d seen more of them together before the fast-forward to the conclusion. Their life together is just beginning, after all, and, having my interest in the relationship already piqued, I wanted more.

The writing here is, perhaps, not quite as crisp as in the Michaela & Trisha mysteries, but this is an earlier work. Not that the writing is bad, by any stretch of the imagination, Genet’s voice just seems more assured in the other books I’ve read. A reviewer on another forum wrote “each and every word is essential to progressing the story.” I couldn’t agree more. In a review of another of Genet’s novels, I wrote, “Personally, I’d call her style spare, with not one single word ever getting in the way of the important thing: the story.” Genet’s narrative style is perfectly suited to her stories, and that’s not always an easy trait to find, or to produce.

Another quality I’ve always found with Genet is believability, no matter how removed from the mundane the plot may be. In Remnant, she does a terrific job making us actually feel what Cass is experiencing, her fears, her uncertainties, her triumphs and her joys. She (Genet) also skillfully creates a mood of fear and dread, but also one of determination, and, at times, even wonder. Descriptive passages, such of those of the burgeoning new plant life, add to the sense of believability. In a book where so many things have become majorly FUBAR-ed, Genet still shows us the beauty, and her ability to build suspense is every bit as good as in the later works.

One tiny complaint: Horses’ tack includes “reins” not “reigns.” Just sayin’ okay?

So, I enjoyed Remnant a lot. Updating reading progress on Goodreads, at the 25% point, I said “Gripping” and later, “Compelling.” Nothing happened in the remainder of the book to change either of those opinions. In short, it’s a damned good read, and it’s a shame (and a surprise) that Genet hasn’t been snatched up by a major publisher.

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