The opening of E drops us straight into a nightmare worthy of Room 101. When the torment stops, the bleak reality of life in an outpost kicks in. Outpost of what? Who knows. This is a story full of unanswered questions, not questions that interrupt the story, but the kind of questions we ask because this appalling world is so fascinating.
The action takes place in a very circumscribed area and focuses on a limited number of characters, giving it the quality of a play. Bit players enter the stage and leave, while the storyline progresses at a relentless pace. We walk the same few streets to the same destinations, in an oppressive atmosphere of fear, beneath the inhuman gaze of the sinister Sentries.
The story is told through the perceptions of Eden, a random name she gives herself based on the letter E marked on her forehead—when she comes to her senses in a filthy alleyway, she has no recollection of who she is, what was her life before, or what she had done to be put in the box. What the box is exactly, why it is, and who operates it is shrouded in mystery like so much of this world. All that really matters to us is all that matters to the inhabitants of Outpost Three—even more narrowly, to Eden. Existence is dependent on the whim of the local power broker, gang leader, Mafia boss, and civil order is maintained by the Sentries, peace-keeping robots, who deal out instant justice.
However skin-creepingly nasty the opening scenes are, things get gradually worse, more terrifying and hopeless. I think hopelessness is the defining sentiment of this world. The one and only view of the greenery beyond the wall of the Outpost is tied up with the massacre of a deer closely followed by the massacre of the hunters. It is hope that Eden hangs onto, fragile and tenuous as it is, when she burrows her way into a small nucleus of warmth, a surrogate family. She has nothing, not even a character. She has to rebuild her whole persona while trying to stay alive in the hostile environment she discovers at the same time as the reader.
Because we are so intimately attached to Eden what doesn’t impinge upon her survival or her emotions drops out of the narrative. This heightens the dramatic tension, focusing directly on one character, her feelings, physical and emotional. I came to like the character of Eden as she built it up, piece by piece, and found that I never passed judgement on her. Whatever she did, it always seemed like the right thing to do. It is a tribute to Kate Wrath’s talent of characterisation that despite Eden’s obvious courage, her ‘family’s’ solidarity and strength, and not one but two big, handsome men to look out for her, that terrible sense of impending doom never lets up.
Despite the awfulness of Outpost Three, I enjoyed this book a great deal. The writing is never uneven. It is sparse and stripped down to the essentials, but the author chooses her words with great care to create a world and characters very much in three dimensions. E’s story should appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Melvin Burgess’s Bloodtide. It is dark and bloody and leaves the reader with no illusions about the basic inhumanity of humankind.
4 thoughts on “Book review: E by Kate Wrath”
Great review. I have this book on my Kindle and hope to read it very soon.
I think you’ll like it. Like maybe isn’t the right word, but you’ll be gripped.
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