Our narrator introduces us to a world forever changed. A fungal disease took away all the women ten years ago. Therefore, what remains of humanity is in its final generation. Our group of male survivors is doing their best to carry on and create a community and lives for themselves. They are thrown into turmoil when mushrooms begin to grow from the graves of the women they have buried. I really want to avoid spoilers, so I’ll be hazy, but these mushrooms are alive and are named the Beauty by our narrator.
Despite mentions of modern technology, what we have is a group of men who have regressed to a simple agricultural life. They survive off the land, leaning on each other. They’ve created a new community in the Valley of the Rocks. The Valley of the Rocks is a place that feels out of time – in a vacuum – a miniature version of the wider societies around the world. The arrival of the Beauty throws this society into flux and some are more accepting than others. Mistrust between the men grows. Is the Beauty a blessing or a curse?
The story is told from the point of view of our narrator. His role in the society is storyteller. He regales the group with campfire stories of women they’ve known and of the old times. His language and thoughts are lyrical and poetic. We’re sharing in one of these campfire stories as we hear the stories of the Beauty. As the book progresses, the truth of his stories is questioned by some of the men as the divisions intensify. This adds another dimension to the story because of the important role our narrator and his specific viewpoint play.
The story has an otherworldly cosmic feel. There is a constant threat of violence and a pervasive dread. The focus is on the men and how their community can survive divisions. All that they’ve had for so long is each other. The discussion of the theme of gender roles occurs throughout the story, and challenges them in the most interesting ways. It’s completely different story-wise, but for those who like the Walking Dead, I think they will especially enjoy this apocalyptic tale and the stress of surviving as a group.
The Beauty is well worth a read. It’s engaging, makes you think, and is treading new ground.
Reviewed by Andrew Tadman. @thebooksofblood