Before The Flood
Jolly Big Entertainment
Another day, another post-apocalyptic horror novel with a Lovecraftian tinge. It’s a genre that continues to expand at a rapid rate, so what makes this – the fourth tale in John Houlihan’s Seraph Chronicles series, and the first full-length novel set in the universe – stand apart from the ever-maddening crowd? Well, firstly it’s set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, which is still a relatively unique setting, and nice for a UK-based reader to see. Even better – it’s not set in or around London. Pick up a (virtual) fistful of post-apocalyptic novels set in the UK, and I can guarantee a huge percentage will have its characters hiding, running and shooting in, around and under London and the surrounding areas. While I won’t deny that London is an impressive metropolitan area, well-suited to many stories and genres, it does become a bit wearisome when for the umpteenth-time it becomes the sole focus of action.
By comparison, it’s a breath of fresh air to see that Before The Flood doesn’t take a single step into the UK capital, and indeed it’s only referenced a few times. The vast majority of action is set in northern Wales and Anglesey, an area which I think might be unique as a setting for this genre – I certainly can’t bring any to mind as of this review. It’s obviously an area the author is intimately familiar with, as he describes it fondly and very well. This makes a refreshing change, and allows for a different pace compared to the often claustrophobic, fast-paced action set in urban environments. The haunted, wretched marshes and thick primeval forests with little cover mean far less gun-blazing set-pieces and far more running and hiding in an often-hostile natural habitat that 21st-century humanity often has no affinity for.
As for the tale itself – the apocalypse has come, as it does, this time in the form of climate-change. In the near-distant future the sea-levels have raised so high that much of the UK is water-logged or complete submerged; only a few outposts like London and Wales remain, sheltering the remnants of humanity who are led by a Provisional Government. As of this wasn’t inconvenient enough, the rising seas were the work of Deep Ones – scaly amphibians who have emerged from the waves and begun to conquer what is left of the UK (and the rest of the soggy world). Britain prevails – but barely so, clinging onto what’s left of its domain chiefly through the efforts of militia units led by the few veterans left – veterans like Sergeant Emma Stokes, our protagonist. The majority of the armed forces are gone – either dead or withdrawn to the highest sections of land left – and the militia is all that remains to bear the brunt of the Deep Ones’ assault.
Poorly armed and more like a rabble than anything with a military bearing, Sergeant Stoke’s militia squad is ordered to investigate a troubling new development in the war with the Deep Ones – a mysterious island that has appeared off Angelsey. Stokes – a deeply cynical and war-weary soldier – realises that this is a suicide mission for her and her charges. However, a chance meeting with a mysterious Major Seraph – white-haired, charming, an immensely powerful practitioner of magic – soon leads her down a very different path as he co-opts her and a few chosen men and women into his own desperate mission. Very soon, Stokes is drawn into a world of Deep One magic-wielders, an underground bunker manned by a very prim and proper English-Rose librarian, and a band of seemingly super-human Welsh teenagers who are able to tear apart Deep Ones without apparent effort.
As with all of Mr Houlihan’s works, this is a very well-written and well-paced tale, that includes a set of well-written and pulpy but three-dimensional characters, not to mention some brilliant action set-pieces and a well-developed post-apocalyptic Britain that begs to be explored in more detail. The ending alone sets up a world of opportunities for further stories, not to mention the mediaeval-era Wales that has evolved in the wake of the apocalypse. If I had one regret, it’s that Major Seraph (the thread running through the Seraph Chronicles) still doesn’t quite get the development he deserves; I can only hope that the next novel explores his background and motivations in far more detail, as such a rich character cannot be left alone.
Pick up Before The Flood and devour it, then go onto the rest of the Seraph Chronicles. You’ll be in for a hell of a ride!
About the Author – John Houlihan has been a writer, journalist and broadcaster for over twenty five years, working in news, sport and especially videogames. He has been employed by The Times, Sunday Times and Cricinfo, was PC editor at GameSpot and is a former Editor-in-Chief of Computer and Video Games.com.