Feral by James DeMonaco and Brian Evenson is a horror novel released under the helm of the über-successful Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge). DeMonaco, who also wrote and directed The Purge films, took a death-defying plunge with Feral, a post-apocalyptic novel similar in tone to The Children of Men.
At first glance, the plot resembles a zombie horror hybrid, or in other words: a Romero/Kirkman lovechild raised by Kate Bush and Gary Busey. But before you press the delete button, and/or burn the book like a Sicilian widow on a rage march, first take a moment to compose yourself.
Feral might share some zombie similarities, but it stops there.
Feral is a tour de force. The novel examines socio-political feminist theory in a dystopian setting. And it executes it so well that one forgets the simplicity in the writing. Feral is definitely not a literary masterpiece filled with Immanuel Kant’s noumenon hidden behind subtextual prose. Who cares about poetic rag-tag chapters and hauntingly handsome hunks when there’s a bloody (no pun intended) good novel waiting to be read? Not everything should be classist and snobby! In fact, I’d devote a higher rating to a novel with a twisted plot and strong characterisation than I would to a three-page-description-about-tears kind of novel.
In the meantime, while you are left to ponder what I just wrote, allow me to let you in on a small secret. In Feral, a chemical explosion (geneticists and their damn Bunsen burners!) turns every male into a ravenous, extremely vicious predator. The women of the world are left to pick up the pieces while trying to defend themselves against a ferocious patriarchy. If it sounds feminist, then yes, it definitely is.
The main protagonist, Allie, only exists to save her younger sister, Kim, from the horrors of the new world. Allie is a potent weapon of mass male destruction – an unyielding and unflinching soldier who is anhedonic to a certain extent. Until one day, when everything changes in a literal and figurative heartbeat. I won’t give away the plot twists – you have to experience the novel for yourself.
The denouement (untying of the plot) is so brutal that I actually caught myself stifling a sob. Yes, dear readers, even critics get emotional sometimes. Yes, we remain objective. No, I do possess a heart (I think). And yes, the plot twists around so many corners that it becomes entangled in a robust series of expressions, such as “Oh my God!”, “The f**k did I just read?”, and my favourite, “No… No! How dare you? Take it back! Rewind the book! Stop it!”
Feral is not exempt from critique. Allie and Kim’s alleged sisterly bond is wafer thin and entirely devoid of any emotional tethering. Kim, who is only 12-years-old, possesses a bizarre immaturity at first, but as the novel progresses her character becomes a defunct plot device with varying levels of maturity. The characterisation is sub-par, the subplots teeter on the edge of a dismal cliff, and (this one irked me the most) certain characters, such as Jacky, come off as stereotypical clichès with stunted dialogue. The latter character is the proverbial LGBT inclusion, which would have been marvelous if it weren’t for her cookie-cutter lesbian personality. It’s as if the authors chose a gay stereotype and pumped it into a character without any forethought. Instead of “a gay female character”, the authors decided to create a fusion of Michelle Rodriguez and the most die-hard radical feminist on the planet.
Despite its misgivings, Feral is still a superb novel with enough plot twists to make your stomach churn. Read it. Please?
Reviewed by Renier Palland
Allie Hilts was still in high school when a fire at a top-secret research facility released an air-borne pathogen that quickly spread to every male on the planet, killing most. Allie witnessed every man she ever knew be consumed by fearsome symptoms: scorching fevers and internal bleeding, madness and uncontrollable violence. The world crumbled around her. No man was spared, and the few survivors were irrevocably changed. They became disturbingly strong, aggressive, and ferocious. Feral.