We Are the Dead is a brilliant debut that marks Mike Shackle as an author to keep an attentive eye on. One of my favourite reads of the year so far for sure.
Firstly, I want to say a thank you to Filip Magnus for this great buddy read, which made the reading experience of We Are the Dead even better.
So, after hearing glowing reviews of We Are the Dead by many of my favourite reviewers, I thought I would enjoy this. But, I was surprised by how much I did. I loved it. This is a brilliantly constructed story, with a fast pace, engaging plot, compelling themes and a fantastic range of characters. Mike Shackle explores each aspect of storytelling and pulls them all together to form a great story.
“We are the dead who stand in the light. We are the dead who face the night. We are the dead whom evil fears. We are the Shulka and we are the dead.”
We are thrust into a world that seems to be heavily inspired by Japanese culture. The Shulka are a warrior elite who appear to be a cross between Spartans and Samurai, who have protected Jia from the Egril for centuries. But this has led to overconfidence, so that when the Egril launch an invasion and take over the country in eight days, Jia has no plan. We see the people oppressed in this new regime where you must either submit or hide to survive. Everyone feels the threat of death’s cold touch on a daily basis, with no respite and no retribution of freedom in sight.
When you see that on the cover it says ’No More Heroes’, you get the feeling this is going to be a gritty read. And oh, We Are the Dead delivers in that arena. It is not extreme, but there are many Grimdark elements to this story. I think that Mike Shackle depicts violence in an authentic manner that avoids being gratuitous, but allows the brutality of the world to feed into the plot and further build on the circumstance and motivations of course characters.
"You should never make fun of a man with a knife."
I really enjoyed the structure of this story. Each section is a day in the world we enter, and within this we as the reader are greeted by short-ish chapters that together form a fast pace that does not let up at all. In this, we have five perspectives:
- Tinnstra, the daughter of famous General, Grim Dagen, who is a well-trained warrior, but considers herself to be a coward. During this book she must either break or face her fears.
- Yas, a single mother striving to earn money for her mother and baby son, but in doing so it pulled into political intrigue.
- Jax, a famous general of the Shulka, until the country was taken over and he lost his arm. He is now a leader of the Hanran, a resistance group, who is striving to keep the hopes of a revolution alive.
- Dren, a rebellious teenager consumed by anger who is the leader of his own group who oppose the new rule of the Egril.
- And then Darus, one of the most sadistic villains I have encountered. He has the ability to heal all wounds. The greatest gift anyone can be given. But, he uses this skill to heal those he tortures, so that they do not die and that he can be entertained by their endless suffering.
These are five great perspectives who each engage with their own interesting storylines and themes that expose their vices and virtues. Mike Shackle asks the question of whether revolution is worth the deaths of innocents caught in the middle, and to do so he presents these questions to each perspective, where they justify their approach and the reader is left to make their own judgement. We have antagonists and anti-heroes who you at times simultaneously feel sympathy, aversion and attachment.
“It had always been a fool’s hope from the beginning.”
The prose wasn’t out of this world, nor was the concept. But that does not demean it in any shape or form. I see a lot of people see this as a detractor in books they read, but I don’t see why. Mike Shackle took what he could do best, and wrote something I would say was fantastic, equal to those books people say does perhaps explore prose and contribute something radical to the genre.
We Are the Dead is one of the best debut’s I have had the pleasure to read. Echoing what I saw Petrik say in his review, it is crazy this has not had more attention and a wider readership. Honestly, this is a fantastic story that I think everyone would enjoy. Every aspect, from prose to characters to plot is just superbly crafted. Please read this!