Disclosure: I bought this book of my own accord. Affiliate links may be in the review below.
Title: The Beauty
Author: Aliya Whiteley
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Genres: Horror, Post-apocalyptic
Star Rating: 4/5
Who would you trust to help rebuild humanity, if you had the chance?
The Beauty begins in a grey, bleak lowland at the ends of civilization—literally and figuratively. A group of men and teenage boys struggle to survive in the Valley of the Rocks, a small community surrounded by woods far from the cities the last generation fled from. All of the women in the known world died of a mysterious fungal disease, and the only evidence of their existence is the small graveyard outside the encampment. The group’s leader only values enduring hardship and remembering the group’s reasons for separating from society in its beginning. He forbids its imaginative young storyteller, Nate, from telling stories of what could be in the future—especially when bright, unusual yellow mushrooms begin to sprout from the graves of their buried mothers, wives, and teachers.
Whiteley’s novella feels like a fever dream became sentient and decided to write a cryptic, horrifying social commentary about the staying power of gender roles. Like the fungal sickness, a malign bitterness spreads and propagates via the men who were once close to the group’s women before they died. Several of the group’s older men insinuate to its young protagonist that his memories of his mother before her death are not only inaccurate, but rose-tinged and naive, with a heavy implication that she deserved to die. There’s never an explicit reason given for this remark, but their paranoia and avoidance of talking about the fungal sickness hints that they blame the women for falling to the disease—either out of fear that the men might eventually lose their immunity, or out of anger for dying and leaving them behind. The marked hostility of the older men toward the women in their memories, and their reactions to what may be a chance to repopulate, feels chillingly familiar to any reader who’s experienced misogyny or veiled sexism.
Power and its corrupting effect are also explored, in a way that’s reminiscent of Lord of the Flies (affiliate link) but still fresh. In addition to the social horror throughout, there’s enough revolting imagery, tension, and shocking events to balance out the intellectual implications of the book. My reasons for giving only 4 stars are minor, compared to the book’s positives: the ending is satifying, but I feel happens a bit too quickly, and with less tension than I anticipated after such a slow burn of a build-up. The edition I’ve reviewed also contains the short story “Peace, Pipe,” which is solid and well crafted, but underwhelming after the brilliance of the main novella. I would recommend this to any readers who are fans of smart horror, dystopian literature, or cutting social criticism.
Chaos Walking series, by Patrick Ness (YA) – start with The Knife of Never Letting Go (Extremely high recommendation!)
Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell
Content warnings: gore, disease, loss, grey areas of consent, implied sexual violence
Reviews of horror, nonfiction, and other genres from a life-long lover of books.