Post apocalyptic novels have fascinated me since I first read Stephen King’s The Stand, What can I say? There is something about watching the collapse of society as we know it and the trials and tribulations of characters as they navigate their way in a drastically changed environment. Jay Posey’s debut novel, Three, has little in common with King’s magnum opus on its face, though I would say that it falls into a subset of the post apocalyptic genre. Posey does share with King an ability to inject his prose with a strong sense of place and characters that linger in the minds of the reader long after the last page is closed. Those attributes coupled with sparsely elegant prose make Three an exciting offering from a debut author that fans of the genre would do well to keep their eyes upon.
The publisher’s back copy follows:
The world has collapsed, and there are no heroes any more.But when a lone gunman reluctantly accepts the mantel of protector to a young boy and his dying mother against the forces that pursue them, a hero may yet arise.
It’s sparse to be fair, but it gets the point across. Three is the story of a loner, surviving by his wits and strength on the fringes of a world destroyed by an unknown apocalypse that has left the world plagued by what appear to be a sci-fi riff on zombies called The Weir as he finds himself saddled with a mother and child on the run from persons unknown and the change he sees in himself when he finally allows himself a respite from his self inflicted solitude. Will accepting the mantle of protector and hero cost him his life in the process, and is that possible sacrifice worth the risk of letting himself feel again?
Posey’s narrative is full of mystery, and most of the questions genre fans will want answered are left either completely unanswered or only given the lightest of attention. This approach is likely to leave readers either impressed with the subtle world building and exposition or frustrated with the almost absolute lack of answers. Personally, I was impressed by Posey’s minimalistic style, finding an elegant bleakness to his prose. Posey leaves much to the reader’s imagination, only providing what is vital and necessary to the tale he wishes to tell. Readers who want in depth explanations to every facet of the setting will be sorely disappointed, but those looking for a character centered tale of sacrifice, heroism, and the warming a stony heart should look no further.
Posey’s protagonist, the enigmatic Three, whose name provides the novel’s title is an obvious heroic stereotype; a mercilessly efficient survivor, possessing skills almost unparalleled in the setting, but it’s not these features that make him compelling. It’s his humanity rather than his superhuman competence that speaks most clearly from the page. Three is a man who has avoided human connection, finding himself endangered not just physically but emotionally as he takes up a role of protector and guardian to the ailing Cass and her surprisingly gifted son Wren. Three’s gradual return to empathy and community is the real point of the story in my mind. No man, no matter how exceptional, can remain alone and find meaning in his life.
Posey also manages to write Wren, a young boy of six years just as convincingly, reminding me of writers such as King and Martin who are often lauded for their ability to portray children well. Wren is an exceptional child, with gifts he neither understands nor can control, but Posey manages to write him with a complex mixture of innocence and matter of fact weariness that makes tugs at the reader’s heart strings. His bond with Three will bring a smile to fathers and step-fathers everywhere.
Posey’s experience as a game designer shows itself primarily in his action sequences which are well choreographed and rife with dismemberments and broken bones. There is a casual brutality to these scenes and it fits well with both the characters and the setting. In a world where the dead prowl the night with glowing eyes, there is no room for sentimentality and survival by any means is the only rule that matters. But even with action aplenty, Three is a novel about redemption and the return to humanity and Posey injects every character interaction with meaning and pathos to spare.
In conclusion, Posey has delivered a tale that despite its minimalist approach to world building and exposition has real depth of character and resonance when it could easily have been nothing more than exercise in over the top action scenes, and post apocalyptic set dressing. With more volumes to come in this series, I look forward to see where Posey takes us next, and I’m confident that Three will find itself included in many ‘Best of’ lists by years end.