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Man After His Kind
by Grant Wales
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Reviewed by: John Walsh

We know - some of us more vaguely than others - the story of Noah and the flood. God, in His typical wisdom, has decided that His creations have failed Him in some way and so must be almost completely eradicated by a scouring flood they will have no way of resisting. However, given His extraordinary mercy, He decides to select a well-known alcoholic with a dysfunctional family to disclose important information on how to build a giant boat which will enable him - it is Noah, of course - and his mostly nuclear family to survive as long as they take two specimens of every known species of animal on board with them. After the designated deluge takes place, Noah and his ark wash up on a mountain and repopulate the earth from their own resources. It is, of course, a curious story most likely incorporated from a variety of folk tales involving environmental disasters and apparently miraculous survival followed by ultimate survival of the tribe (complete extinction tends to have a negative impact on the creation of folk tales). It is repurposed in the Bible as a fable concerning the ability of mankind to control his or her own destiny in an uncaring universe - although not everyone accepts this interpretation.

From here we come to Grant Wales's Man after His Kind, which is a reimagination of the Noah story from a humanist viewpoint - that is, many of the elements of the Noah story remain in place but the people act in a world without religious beliefs. They decide what to do according to the power structures and hierarchies embedded within their society. So, Noah and his neighbours live in a town (it seems to be more of a town than a village) called Tirzah dominated by a slave-owning class that justifies its existence by designating slaves as prisoners and a blatantly corrupt establishment that turns a blind eye to misdemeanours as long as no one disrupts the desired order - it is notable that one citizen previously in good standing becomes recategorized as an offender who can never eradicate the stain of his guilt and shame by virtue of having started hammering after midnight. This is a brutal society controlled by overt or implicit violence and the citizens anesthetize themselves with the profusion of opium, hashish, hallucinogenic mushrooms, whiskey, tobacco, coffee and all kinds of other stimulants that seem to be widely available. This is a curious element to the narrative that removes it from the historical fiction genre to the fantasy or at least speculative fiction genre - where do all these commodities come from? The land around Tirzah is often described as undergoing sub-zero temperatures but there are nevertheless moa birds, dodos, a variety of cattle and numerous other kinds of meat - including exotic insects, spices, incredible textiles and so forth. At the same time, no one seems to be doing any meaningful work or trade, including the mining that would be required to produce the many fire arms deployed throughout the text.

However, the characters are unfazed by this and by both the diversity of ethnicities implied by the different names of the protagonists and the ways in which they interact with each other, especially given how ugly or unpleasant nearly everyone seems to be. Instead, as the flood draws near, the people of the community begin to reveal the darker side of their nature. Those too weak or poorly-connected to make it on to the Ark that Noah is, however implausibly, building to save them all, are marked out with the equivalent of black spots. Violence becomes the preferred means of resolving ant controversies and the possession of capital (of different sorts) is revealed as the means of distinguishing between those who might be saved and those who will be condemned to a watery death. This is made more evident by the fact that none of the characters seems to talk about the gods or God or any other coherent supernatural force or refer to any legendary, folk or historical references in their normal conversation. Normally, this would be one of the factors that would cause me to have a negative response to narratives about past events but in this case, I am happy to accept, it meets the narrative theme well.

Despite the fact that few characters are very likeable and there is a slight tendency towards 'telling not showing,' this is nevertheless a fascinating story and a recreation of the tale of Noah that demonstrates genuine intelligence and skill on behalf of the author. His website indicates that this is his first novel and, as it is conventional to say, the first one is best got out of the way quickly so that the true artists can start to explore their talent and interests in subsequent books. This is an author of real promise and, having been sent this book for review, I certainly look forward to the author's subsequent career with great interest. We may well have an author of real substance here.

Learn more about Man After His Kind at Dragonfall Press.

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