Hello people! I hope you all are safe and happy, and that you are reading some amazing books! Today I am finally back with a review for one of the SPSFC books, and I am pretty excited to be back with a new review! Lately I wasn’t in the right mood, and the blog payed the price for it, but it seems like things are going back to normal, so here we are!!!
Title: What Branches Grow
Author: T.S. Beier
Publication Date: April 12th, 2020
A boldly imagined, exhilarating quest through post-apocalyptic America, where human nature is torn between the violent desperation to survive and the desire to forge connection.
Thirty-five years ago, the world was ravaged by war. Delia, driven from her home in Savannah by loss, travels North in search of a future. Gennero is tortured by his violent past and devotion to his hometown. Ordered to apprehend Delia, he follows her into the post-apocalyptic landscape. The wasteland is rife with dangers for those seeking to traverse it: homicidal raiders, dictatorial leaders, mutated humans, and increasingly violent and hungry wildlife.
What Branches Grow is an unflinching depiction of life after civilization, where, above all else, trust is the hardest thing to achieve and to give. The survivors have an audacious dream of a better life, but their quest may end up being a fruitless endeavour in a world openly hostile to hope.
I was a tad cautious when I started this book because this was often referred to as a sort of Mad Max setting, and even if I have not watched that movie (I’ll do it sooner or later, but so far I didn’t), I had some difficulties in the past with books that were marketed this way, so much so that the thing lost all its appeal to me. Add to it that post-apocalyptic is not my favorite… So yeah, I was cautious and not really excited to start this one. But it hooked me up from the start.
Sometimes it’s good to be wrong!
If I have to describe this book with just one word, it would be unexpected. It surprised me time, and again, and always in good ways. As I said, the first surprise was that I was hooked from the start. I started reading and, just like that, I was captivated. We start meeting Gennero, one of our MCs, and the place in which he lives, that is not Heaven on Earth, that’s for sure. He is an interesting character, I liked him from the start. And then we have Delia. She is another good character, she has a lot of baggage, sure, but she is not the only one. And let’s be honest here, you can’t really live in the Wastes and not have baggage. We are talking about a world that almost ended, and now people are slowly going back to take control of their life, the world, and the civilization, sort of. So yeah, it is a hard, harsh world, often time cruel and so… yeah, you get the idea, right?
Anyway, Delia is badass, and she is strong-willed and hardened, but from time to time she is also naive, and she is a dreamer at her core.
And then we have Perth and Mort. We met them at a later moment, but they would become soon old friends. Gennero and Delia are born in this new and wasted world, while Perth is a survivor from before. And its whole personality has this big difference at its core. He is a nerd, who loves to quote lost things, sadly (not for the quotes, but for the fact that the things he quotes does not exist anymore!), but he has a cheerful disposition, at least most of the time, and he is the perfect counterpoint to the grumpiness of both Gennero and Delia, they may be great, sure, but they are not happy or cheery people! And Mort is an adorable pug. Adorable!
But I was talking about surprises, and here is another one: the story. The synopsis is okay, it is not misleading, or it is just a bit, but you get what it promises. We wander the wastelands with our characters, while they are trying to find the promised city. And we get to see what happened to the world after its end (an end that is totally humans), well sort of end, since it is really not completely gone. But the world as we know it, civilization in all its meaning, is no more and what remains is a hostile environment in which people try to go on living. And we get to see the good, sure, because we visit some really interesting places that are not so bad (sure, the environment thing sucks and there is no way around it, but we get to see some functional and sane societies, in which people thrive, as much as it is possible in this new world), but for the most part we get to see the bad. Because, well… such is human nature. But we meet a ton of different communities (or social experiments, because you can really well see them as such, too) and people. And it is astounding the length people would go to preserve life. This part was really interesting.
And this is a really important and big part of the book, but it is not the only main theme. Because this book is, also, a romance story. And this was what really surprised me. I am not complaining, mind me. I am just saying that it was surprising. I was expecting a romance element, because you can feel it from the beginning, almost, but you can say that this is a post-apocalyptic romance and you won’t be wrong. Romance is front and center in this book. And it really adds something to the whole.
Gennero and Delia are quite naive, especially when we talk about dating. They had a hard life and they didn’t get any experience in the dating and courtship department, and we have to consider that the world in which they live is harsh and pragmatism is a must, not an option, and so it is like watching to awkward teen in adult bodies that try to understand what they are feeling, and are trying to express it somehow. It is slow-burn. Really, really slow-burn, but it adds some funny and cute moments to the story.
But this was not the last surprise. What surprised me the most, and this is my favorite thing of the whole book, is that we get to see the contraposition between the before the bombs destroyed the world and the after. We have people that lived in the world before, and we have people who are born after. And seeing them trying to understand the internet was priceless. And seeing our society, our world, our everyday life, all the things that we take for granted, with different eyes, with uncomprehending eyes (aliens, if we will, even if we are always talking about people) was something. It made me think, it is eye-opening, and it is a really interesting thing.
And I also loved that Perth, who survived the end of the world, is almost obsessed with the need to understand what happened to the world (we know that they bombed the shit out of the Earth, but it is not really clear who they are, because sure, all Nations sooner or later bombed, but who started it? And who bombed who? And we don’t know what kind of bombs they used and where, and what the different bombs caused), while Delia and Gennero, even if they are curious about how the things were before, they are mainly baffled by it, they think it was all non-sense, and they are not really interested in understanding what happened to the world. They are more interested in the here and now. And both these endeavors are understandable and are expected, too. They really make sense, but it was interesting to see them here, portrayed like that. I think that the author did an amazing job with this part.
Sure, at this particular historical moment this book hits way too close for comfort, but it has some solid points, and even if I have no wish of visiting this world for real, it was nice trumping around with our characters and seeing so much of this new and terrifying world. If you are not so comfortable at the moment with this kind of books, please keep this one in mind for a later reading, because it was really something!
The only thing that didn’t really sit well with me, but it is a minor thing, is a redemption arc that we get to see in there. On one hand I appreciated it, and I liked that we get some closure on that chapter, but, on the other hand, it was a tad rushed. But, again, it is just a minor thing, and I had a really good time with this book!
And what about you? Have you heard before of this one? And are you interested in it?? Let me know!