The Samaritan (A Quiet Apocalypse: Book 3)
It was with equal parts excitement and trepidation that I approached The Samaritan, the third book in Dave Jeffery’s peerless post-apocalyptic series A Quiet Apocalypse, published by Demain Publishing. Excitement because I was eager to see what Jeffery had in store for me and the post-apocalyptic universe he has deftly and painstakingly crafted over the previous two books in the series. Trepidation because I was genuinely concerned about just whether it was possible for him to maintain the immensely high quality found in those same two books. I risk descending into hagiography here, something I’ve always tried to studiously avoid on this blog, but I cannot over-emphasis just how impressed I’ve been by A Quiet Apocalypse and Cathedral, the first two titles in this series. Jeffery created a quietly chilling, highly atmospheric and incredibly unsettling world, set in the aftermath of a devastating viral meningitis outbreak that killed most of the population, and left a majority of the survivors permanently deaf. Those survivors have mainly clustered together in the city of Cathedral, ruled by a fanatical and brutal cult that ruthlessly hunts down naturally deaf survivors and murders them, irrationally blaming them for the end of the world. The story Jeffery told through those two books was fascinating, complex and multi-layered, developing something that by the end of Cathedral was very clearly a classic of the post-apocalyptic genre.
However, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of authors I’ve discovered who can maintain a consistent quality in a multi-book series, and I’d have plenty of fingers to spare. It’s almost inevitable that somewhere along the line in a series, the quality will dip: the world building will become overwhelming, or characterisation will be inconsistent, or the plot will begin to bow under the weight and demands of the first two, or become amended by reader expectations. As such, I was genuinely on tenterhooks when I started reading The Samaritan, both curious to see what was in store, and also deeply concerned as to whether Dave Jeffery could achieve success for a third time
As it turns out – I needn’t have worried at all
It says something about the manner in which Dave Jeffery has inverted and refreshed common post-apocalyptic genre tropes that, in the world of A Quiet Apocalypse, a Samaritan is the last person you’d ever want to meet. Encountering one is a terrifying prospect for those surviving in the wilderness outside of Cathedral, because it will either lead to forced imprisonment inside the city, or simply death if one is unfortunate enough to be naturally deaf rather than robbed of one’s hearing as a result of the MNG-U virus. They’re a fascinating creation of Jeffery, utterly ruthless, brutal, and dedicated in their missions into the harsh environment of the wilderness; and yet simultaneously worn down by their task and the isolation it enforces, both out in the wilderness and in the cult-like society that exists within Cathedral. Our protagonist for the novella is one of these unusual individuals, and it opens with them clinging to life inside an abandoned house in the wilderness, fingers clasped to a bloody gut wound that’s becoming infected to the point of causing vivid hallucinations.
Taking us backwards in the narrative, Jeffery paints a vivid picture of the cold, uncompromising and quietly fanatical nature of the Samaritans, and the uneasy manner in which they operate as they range outside the walls of Cathedral; they act as a group, but are also deeply damaged and flawed individuals, surviving the end of the world with their psyches only partially intact, each dealing with it in their own unhealthy ways. Nathan, our protagonist, obsessed over his lost love and his last words to him during the apocalypse, often hearing his loved one’s voice in the back of his mind. By comparison, the group’s leader, Snelson, hides uncertainty and fear with an utter reliance on alcohol and a savage, arrogant personality that focuses on a soul-deep hatred of Harbingers – the naturally deaf. During one such tour outside Cathedral, anger and obsession lead to a series of poor decisions, resulting in the Samaritans either perishing or, like Nathan, becoming grievously wounded. Taken captive by those representing his greatest fear, the Samaritan must struggle both with his wounds, and the fact that he is in close proximity to abominations that he has pledged to eradicate from the face of the ruined planet. In the process, Jeffery delivers his unique take on that most ancient of concepts: staying in close proximity to a hated foe will humanize them regardless of how much one fights it or wishes it were otherwise. Jeffery demonstrates to the reader that a fanatic such as Nathan – such as all Samaritans – cannot have competition or rivals; their very nature means that competition is abhorrent, especially in an environment where resources are slim and becoming slimmer with every passing day. Thus when Nathan is confronted with that which he hates – to an ingrained and pathological degree – and cannot strike it down immediately and deliver punishment, he is instead forced to reconsider and reconceptualise. As the story progresses, Nathan undergoes an unflinchingly honest, complex and deeply emotional examination of his past, present and future, and how his existence in Cathedral and role as Samaritan can exist with those trying to survive outside of the walled city. To go into it any further risks spoiling an exquisitely written narrative, but it’s a concept that made me consider the post-apocalyptic genre in a very different light, and a very unique angle.
That narrative and that conceptualising is only possible thanks to the rich, multi-layered and often poetic language that Jeffery uses throughout the novella, with each paragraph, sentence and even word choice clearly carefully considered before being written down. I particularly admired the ways in which Jeffery describes the shattered environment of a country laid waste by an apocalyptic event, and the manner in which nature is slowly but inevitably suffocating and eradicating any evidence of man’s artificial existence. Obviously that’s something that comes up in many such titles in the genre, but only rarely have I see it demonstrated in such a captivating and engaging manner; every page is a philosophical conversation as much as a post-apocalyptic thriller. It adds additional, complex layers to an already richly-developed world, and demonstrates exactly why the A Quiet Apocalypse series as a whole is rapidly becoming a modern classic of the post-apocalyptic genre. I also appreciate that Jeffery continues to refrain from exploring MNG-U in any detail, so often the downfall of post-apocalyptic fiction. It remains in the background, simultaneously powerful and unknowable, always casting a shadow over the terrain but never derailing the narrative. As with its predecessors, The Samaritan is about the reactions of the individual, and society as a whole, to the end of the world – and not the cause of that ending itself occurring. That’s an incredibly refreshing view, and one of the many elements that makes the novel – and the series as a whole – such a refreshing read.
The Samaritan is not only an incredible novel by itself, it also works on expanding the universe of the series and further developing the world-building; this time, it’s not just Cathedral and its occupants that become more established, but the world outside the stifling confines of the cult-city. We get some tantalising glimpses at the wider environment – both in terms of how nature is reclaiming humanity’s constructs, but also how those outside of the cult are surviving and potentially even thriving. It’s a fascinating development in the series, and also ties into the wider concepts being developed by Jeffery: A Quiet Apocalypse focused on the price to be paid for survival in this new world, and Cathedral looked at the price of compliance within the only place that promised safety within its cloistered walls. The Samaritan takes that a step further, this time looking at the price – physical, emotional and social – paid by the elite Samaritans as they both enforce the harsh, authoritarian rules of Cathedral, and also hunt down those they blame for the apocalypse. Jeffery deftly and thoughtfully explores the symbiotic, often parasitic relationship between Cathedral and the Samaritans, each dependent on the other and yet irreversibly damaged by that very same dependency.
All of the above elements – and so many more that I can’t discuss for fear of spoilers – are effortlessly combined by Dave Jeffery in order to make The Samaritan a complex, deeply fascinating and multi-layered story that surprises even after multiple re-reads. Packed with intense, brutal action scenes, deeply affecting emotional twists, and thought-provoking philosophical questions, The Samaritan is a novel that relentlessly burrows into your psyche and never lets up for a second until that last, harrowing paragraph that will leave you feeling hollow and emptied out. With the publication of The Samaritan Dave Jeffery has ensured that his name is synonymous with British post-apocalyptic fiction, and has decisively proven that he and that genre are one and the same. It is a genuinely astonishing achievement to maintain the same supreme level of quality – in terms of writing, plotting and conceptualisation – throughout multiple books, and I for one cannot wait to see what Jeffery has in store for us in the next book in the A Quiet Apocalypse series.