*This review will contain spoilers!*
'Now, several days since any of the soldiers had been above ground, almost one hundred thousand bodies had gathered around the bunker, every last one of them fighting to get nearer to its impassable entrance.'I only finished the second book in David Moody's Autumn series yesterday, and I was so excited by the ending that I just had to dive straight into this one which - as you can tell by this review - I've already managed to finish.
When we left our survivors they'd just managed to gain entry into the military bunker where Cooper had been sheltering from the day the virus struck. Being in a safe and secure environment for the first time in two months, I'd expected our survivors might have gotten complacent, but the exact opposite happened: if anything, being with the military ratcheted their anxiety through the roof as they wondered what they'd enlist them to do.
Because of the noise from the soldiers coming and going, hundreds upon thousands of corpses gathered outside the bunker, covering the grates in the ground that allow air to pass through the filtration system. The soldiers know that oxygen is running out, so they plot to go above ground and park jeeps over the grates to allow the air free passage. Their first attempt goes well and they manage to unblock two grates and kill a handful of cadavers, but when they go for round two and try to clear more grates, their entire operation falls apart.
This means it takes less than fifty pages for our survivors to find themselves fleeing from the military bunker, once more displaced in the countryside. I'd been expecting a lot more to happen with the army involvement, but I wasn't disappointed because I thought it was a great way of showing the hierarchy shifting with the end of the world: the soldiers go from being the ones in control, having all of the answers, to being terrified and reliant upon information from the civilian survivors.
Our group - joined by four of the military men - bed down in a department store nearby, all of them scared of what the morning will bring. After being in the relative safety of the bunker none of them particularly want to deal with the corpses still wandering the world: corpses who're becoming more sentient, seeming to consider the survivors and make plans before attacking them. Hearing the sound of a helicopter in the distance, all of the people are convinced that they must be delusional: it's only when Richard and Karen land outside, telling them about an island called Cormansey and their plan to clear it entirely of the dead for habitation, that the survivors take a collective sigh of relief. It seems like a future is suddenly possible.
There's a lot of travelling (again!) as the group moves across the countryside to Monkton Airfield, where Richard, Karen, a bunch of survivors, their helicopter and a small plane are staying, but because the travelling is purposeful and holds a lot of plot potential it goes very quickly. I complained that the first half of 'Autumn: The City' moved quite slowly, but the pacing is much better in this third installment, so I can almost forgive that being the only lull in three novels.
I did have a problem with the amount of new characters we got introduced to, but I can see that David Moody is a writer who works best with an ensemble collection. As well as the soldiers who join our survivors, we have Richard and Karen's group (filled with a selection of characters who don't really do much, but who apparently merit full names) and the survivors who are already starting to clear off Cormansey (there are six of them... Two of them seem relevant). It annoyed me that Sunita - the lesbian cigarette-smoker - from the second novel wasn't mentioned even in passing: she seemed to be a focal point of the second story, figuring out that the corpses intentions were shifting, but she doesn't get even the briefest mention in this third installment. It's possible that she died in the truck crash caused by Dr. Croft at the end of the second book, or that she died in the military bunker along with Bernard (who is taken down by badly aimed rifle fire - RIP Bernard) but it would be nice to have a mention for the only LGBT+ character in the entire series.
I still struggle to care about the characters (apart from Emma and Michael, who I grew attached to in the first installment) so the deaths that are meant to be upsetting (the aforementioned Bernard, as well as Dr. Croft and reliable truck driver Steve) are really affecting at all. This might be because I'm reading the novels so quickly - it might be better if I take a step back and wait awhile before reading 'Disintegration' or 'Aftermath' - but it just means I got a bit impatient with the focus switching between rather insignificant characters constantly.
However, I thought the military people who stayed with the group for a length of time - Kelly and Kilgore - were fascinating. They know that if they take off their protective suits, they're likely to die, but because they can't eat or drink while wearing the suits they're heading speedily towards death anyway. It really uses the Schrodinger's cat question: by removing the mask you could live or die, and by keeping the suit on you're both living and dying, so which would you do? It really made me think about how I would react in that situation (but yeah, I'd totally take the mask off).
I LOVED the ending. I thought it was the perfect way to finish the story of these survivors, and after looking online and seeing that 'Disintegration' follows a different group I'm actually happy - these characters have been through enough! I was pleased that there weren't too many deaths or it would have just turned into a bloodbath, but I was also happy that David Moody doesn't seem to be scared to write characters out if it's necessary.
As I said, I'll probably wait a little while before reading the fourth book in the series, but I'm feeling very optimistic.