book reviews by Althea

Prophet of the Badlands – Matthew S. Cox ***

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Full Disclosure: I chose to read this book just because the main character’s name is Althea. I have a great appreciation for my literary name-sisters!

However, I have to admit to also having a great weakness for the genre(s) of this book. Althea is a Mad Max-style feral child, living in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic world of violence and mutants known as the Badlands.

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(Fourth from the left there, that’s Althea. Exactly.) She’s 10-12, resourceful and capable… but she also has mutant powers. Due to these powers, of which her mysteriously-glowing eyes are a giveaway, she’s known as the Prophet.

She doesn’t actually have the skill to foretell the future, but she does have the power of psychic healing – which in a land of casual violence is very, very useful. Therefore, for most of her short life, Althea has been repeatedly kidnapped, passed from hand to hand as a possession. Her extreme usefulness has protected her physically, but it’s no life for a kid.

As the story begins, Althea has finally found a situation she doesn’t mind, and has made a friend – Den’s a boy around her age who hopes to marry her. However, once again she is kidnapped, torn away from everything she knows, and thrown in with a group of older women – the harem of a vicious warlord.

This is them. Exactly.
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Althea is compelled by her gift and her compassionate instincts to help anyone in need, and she wishes both to help these women and to escape and return to Den and his village.

However, this is just the beginning. Althea’s story is a long, episodic saga of adventures throughout the Badlands. Later in the book, she also gets outside the Badlands, where the story takes an abrupt turn toward sci-fi/cyberpunk rather than ‘pure’ post-apocalyptic/dystopian adventure. That was OK with me, because I like cyberpunk too, and it was nice to put the Badlands in a larger context.

Overall, though, the plot feels a bit rambling, and could’ve been tightened up quite a lot. The writing serves its purpose, but is nothing special. There were quite a few awkward phrases and misused words throughout, which a good editor should’ve cleaned up before publication. I also thought that, with a pre-pubescent heroine, the romance aspect (even an innocent, G-rated romance) was completely unnecessary. Friendship (without romance) would’ve rung more true. Lastly, I would’ve liked more exploration of the fact that Althea is clearly an emotion-starved child with a tendency to grab on desperately to anyone who is willing to show her the slightest shred of kindness. The book pretty much acknowledges that but then the plot gives far too much weight to first, Den’s village, and later, Althea’s insta-adopted ‘family.’ I would’ve liked to see Althea learning to judge what might be best for herself, rather than simply clinging to those who have showed her kindness. The amount of ‘judginess’ the plot gives to the values of the society outside the Badlands also felt unfair: too much “big cities are pits of sin and simple village life is better” there for me.

Overall though – I have to admit enjoying the book for what it was. Good fun, with enough of the Things I’m A Sucker For in there to make up for any of its weaknesses.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Curiosity Quills Press for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own


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