An atmospheric wilderness mystery, set in the near future
In a lonely valley, deep in the mountains, a ranger watches over the last surviving grizzly bear.
With the natural world exhausted and in tatters, Ben has dedicated himself to protecting this single fragment of the wild.
One night, he hears voices in the valley – poachers, come to hunt his bear.
A heart-pounding chase begins, crossing forests and mountainsides, passing centuries of human ruins. Sometimes hunter, sometimes prey – Ben must choose the bear’s fate and his own.
Is he willing to lay down his life for a dying breed?
Is he willing to kill for it?
I spotted this novel what feels like a very long time ago — it was the cover, really, as well as the suggestion of an environmentally damaged near-future (at the time, the full synopsis wasn’t available). I read it shortly before it was published, and enjoyed it quite a bit. A shorter novel, and one that focuses more on atmosphere and place than plot (though there is one, so no fear), it was an excellent introduction to Somer’s work.
In many ways, this is a climate change novel — not strictly speaking due to climate, but this is a future that is certainly caused by humanity’s voraciousness.
Watched the water tables drop, the dirt turn sour, the plastics pile up, and on and on. It was all in tiny increments, each seemingly manageable, but together … ecological exhaustion, they called it later.
Much of the population has fled the planet, but a fair number remain — unwilling or unable to leave their home planet. Some — including Ben — are happy to live their lives in the wilderness, to protect it at all costs. In Ben’s case, it’s the last bear, one that has gained a certain mythic quality in our protagonist’s mind: a sign that something is still great on this planet that has otherwise been despoiled by humanity’s relentless consumption. It’s not just Ben, of course, who is aware of the impact we have on nature. Somer sprinkles plenty of interesting, sharp observations throughout the novel.
‘Before we got fat,’ Arnott continues, ‘we burned the forests for better hunting grounds, dammed rivers to irrigate our crops, and engineered bigger tits for our chickens. Didn’t think anything of it until we were nations full of bored predators looking for a cause.’
An interesting, well-written novel. It is one seemingly more interested in atmosphere and description than plot-driven action (although, there is enough of that, too), Somer’s writing is really what sets this novel apart. His descriptions are evocative, and each scene and location is brilliantly brought to life on the page. The story is by turns contemplative, moving, depressing, wrenching, and yet even hopeful.
I’m certainly interested in reading anything else that Somer writes in the future.
Review copy received via NetGalley