The apocalypse comes to the world one cloudy day in the form of a mist. But it’s no ordinary mist. There are tiny crystals in it, sentient crystals that once inside a victim, practically turn them inside out to birth a large worm which then takes control of the victim like a jockey riding a zombie.
On that day, twelve-year-old Emma Bixby is in the park taking refuge from the toxic home environment created by her alcoholic father. For some reason, the crystals, after entering Emma’s lungs and dropping her to her knees, reject her as a host. After surviving the initial attack, Emma rushes home to find her parents dead. And her world, imperfect as it was, gone.
Eight years later, Bix (Emma) is a hunter for a colony of fellow survivors holed up in a dilapidated hotel, The Grand. The world order has come down to three castes: colonists who live in fortified buildings behind barbed wire, guards who send out hunters to forage for food and supplies, and the ravagers. The last are roving gangs who survive through cannibalism and leeches, and in fact, are the alien invaders who ride their human hosts seeking out survivors to feast upon.
Eight years after the apocalypse, Bix is capable and strong, unwilling to back down from a fight, and fiercely loyal. But she is also impulsive, defensive, a loose cannon almost as dangerous to her friends as she is to her enemies. And though her heart is in the right place, her reactions and brash decisions frequently put her life and the lives of those around her at risk.
While resting up after a hunt, word comes down that the colony nearest them squatting in St. Joseph’s hospital has gone radio silent after what sounded like an attack of some sort. At the same time, one of The Grand’s hunting parties hasn’t returned. Bix and her group are sent out to discover what’s happened. The action is compelling and nonstop. Readers will find it difficult to put the book down.
Bryan defines and fleshes out her characters reasonably well. The opening sequence is one of the best we’ve ever read in a dystopian novel, which we’re betting will hook readers immediately. We like Emma right away, feel her pain and worry for her. Eight years later, we find a flawed and almost-impossible-to-recognize-as-the-same-girl Emma, now Bix. Here’s a character that is, at times, hard to sympathize with. Readers will find themselves rooting for her one minute and flummoxed by her brash behavior the next. The juxtaposition is that jarring.
The writing is crisp and compelling and contains elements of horror, action, as well as science fiction, skillfully mixed together reminiscent of the film, Aliens. Though present, the violence and gore of the horror elements are not over the top. And to add a bit of distraction, there are some steamy romantic scenes contained within. The pacing is fast, at times a little too fast. All in all, Michelle Bryan delivers on a first-in-series romp through a dystopian world with plenty of action and a lot of material for the following novels.
Strain of Resistance won First Place in the 2017 CIBAs, the Cygnus Book Awards for Science Fiction.