Toeing the line between horror, action thriller, and dystopian drama, The Drift by C.J. Tudor is a book with a very specific audience in mind. Although it contains elements of many different genres, it mostly includes a significant amount of death and violence. Some readers won’t mind this, but it will certainly prompt others to abandon it midway through. I read a collection of C.J. Tudor horror stories a few months ago and really enjoyed it. She’s a good writer, so if blood and gore doesn’t put you off, then read on…
Readers are launched into three separate storylines when the book opens. In the first, Hannah wakes up in an overturned bus crash, half of the coach buried into the snow, trapped along with a few survivors and even more dead bodies. Their phones were taken away when the bus trip began, and there is no food or water available inside the vehicle. In the second, Meg awakens in a gondola high in the snowy mountains, abruptly stopped on the cables due to a power shortage. There is only one dead body in this cable car, and a few other people as equally confused as Meg, but all are aware the killer must be among of them. In the third storyline, a group of people are living a fairly comfortable yet isolated existence in a building called “The Retreat”. With access to both food, water, private living conditions and entertainment, these folks are undoubtedly the best off compared to the other characters in this book, but there are a group of zombie-like people nicknamed “The Whistlers” who roam the land outside of the Retreat who pose a constant threat. Without giving away spoilers, the various stories gradually reveal a world that has been decimated by a virus that existed for so long that it slowly broke down societal supports like healthcare and a stable supply of food and water. “Whistlers” are those who were infected but didn’t die, either rounded up in camps for medical experiments or living in small groups in nature.
Has your blood pressure been heightened just a little bit by that rollercoaster of a teaser? Quite a bit going on, wouldn’t you say? And herein lies the problem with this book – there are simply too many cliffhangers, issues, and dangers for these characters to really care about what happens to them. The book alternates between these three situations, but all of them are dire, and people are constantly dying in each of them, so when there is a gluttony of death, it begins to lose its meaning. It would have been acceptable if the storylines took turns being action-packed, but it felt like each time a section ended, it ended on a cliffhanger – a bomb or gun has been found, a captured woman is pregnant, another person has been murdered, etc. It became too much for me, and I found myself disconnecting from the book, from both a lack of believability, but also a lack of empathy for who I was reading about.
Once I had accepted the unsustainable pacing of the plot, I found I could relax into this and just get swept along by the tension. This world Tudor describes is one that fueled many of our worst nightmares during the pandemic; what if the vaccines don’t work? What if new strains keep coming and coming, killing off more and more? There are no mentions of masks and sanitizer, but questions of ethics arise as we are introduced to the coping mechanisms of this new world, and the ways in which some people find protection. This is one aspect to the book I wished had been explored further, because it offered an interesting perspective that we don’t often see in these kinds of apocalyptic stories:
“Funny, how many terrible things were done for the ‘greater good’. Carter sometimes wondered at what point the balance tipped. When did the greater good become the fortunate few-and screw everyone else?”-p.118 of The Drift by C.J. Tudor, ARC edition
Aside from my complaint regarding the constant state of anxiety of danger, the writing is solid, and it opens up the characters in an illuminating way. Questions of right and wrong and delved into, but the focus always remains on the present, and the chances of survival. This will likely entice rather than put off some readers, so consider yourself warned.