Reviewed by Elaine Lamkin
Written by Tim Lebbon
Published by Night Shade Books
A series of plagues has decimated the population of Great Britain, leaving only a handful of survivors. Five of those survivors – the unnamed narrator, the Irishman, no-nonsense Cordell, green thumb Jessica, and fragile Jacqueline – all find themselves seeking refuge in an abandoned Welsh manor house where they live fairly comfortably for six months, eating the food (as well as planting more), and making use of the manor’s wine cellar until the arrival of the mysterious Michael. Michael’s appearance one day, on an old motorcycle he said he found, throws everyone as this is the first person they have seen since the deaths ended six months previously.
But Michael is there to tell them about a safer haven – a pub called Bar None down in Cornwall. And with that information, he leaves, sans motorcycle, and the five are left to debate the wisdom of leaving what they know and heading south through cities of death and god knows what-all else or staying put. Of course, curiosity about whether there are other people like them out there lead the five on a trek from south Wales that brings them into contact with cannibals, survivors who have resorted to living a military existence – barricaded into old buses and other vehicles which have been abandoned on the highways – and whatever it is that is flying over the dead cities the five must get too close to for comfort.
Bar None could be compared to Stephen King’s The Stand, only on a MUCH smaller scale, as the reader follows these five survivors of an apocalypse on their quest to find out if there are any other people left on earth. But Bar None is not King; it is Tim Lebbon, and up to a point in the book, the quest these five people find themselves on is quite creepy with some horrific discoveries about what befell their fellow man. But the book just falls apart at the end, for me anyway. Is this a horror novel or is this a fantasy?
Other than the unnamed narrator, who keeps having flashbacks to his life before the plagues came, the reader never really gets to know the other four characters. And when some of them die on the way to Bar None, it’s hard to feel anything about losing them. Lebbon’s strength in this book is what he has his protagonists discover about the rest of the world as they get farther from the safety of the manor house. Mother Nature seems to be royally pissed about these plagues and doesn’t mind showing it.
The chapter titles are of British ales, which I found a tad too precious. I mean, what does that have to do with the situation at hand? Some reviewers have theorized that the ale the characters drink allows them to “remember” their fellow survivors’ memories, but that doesn’t work for me. I would have rather read about more ghastly encounters en route to Cornwall than what drinking a Golden Glory is like.
Bar None is not a terrible book as Tim Lebbon IS the author. I’m just not sure what he was going for with the ales. The subtitle of the book is: “A novel of chilling suspense, apocalyptic beauty and fine ales” – just too cutesy for me. And there are several questions that he leaves completely unanswered, much to my disappointment. Feel free to give it a look, but be prepared to have quite a few questions go by the side of the road.
2 1/2 out of 5
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