34 Degrees (2020) by Mason C. Blevins
A thrilling, well-crafted post-apocalyptic debut novel from author Mason Blevins.
34 Degrees is a post-apocalyptic thriller set in a desolate world ravaged by disease and scarcity of resources.
The underground bunker of Erical is one of the last vestiges of humanity in this cruel world and home to our protagonist April, a nineteen-year-old orphan. Her parents have died from a disease on The Surface called ‘Achoysm’, a deadly respiratory disease that kills by shutting down the body. April gets caught up in some commotion and is essentially cast out of Erical along with two other survivors: Carly, a smart and nimble archer, and Gordan, an imposing brute with anger management problems. The trio are exiled from Erical on a hopeless mission to The Surface, a barren and unforgiving world, in order to secure fresh water for the community and are given little to no provisions to accomplish their task. The novel chronicles the group’s trials and tribulations they face on The Surface through the perspective of April, who quickly establishes herself as the group’s leader.
The pacing of the novel has an almost ‘Mad Max’ like quality where the majority of focus is spent ‘in-the-moment’ as we follow the small team of survivors sent to the wasteland surface. This style works very well for the story with Blevins cleverly keeping the suspense, usually in the form of end-of-chapter hooks that make you want to instantly dive into the next chapter, and ensures a good sense of narrative progression.
There is a decent variation of events covered in the novel, from the group’s initial venture onto The Surface, to their encounters with what little life remains there. The discovery of life on The Surface brings greater challenges to the group, however, as that which was once prey has evolved to predator, and the old-world predators have mutated into more efficient killers. From killer deer to murderous murders of mutant crows, 34 Degrees features a modest selection of creatures befitting its genre.
The novel has a somewhat rocky start as we’re immediately dumped with a chapter of exposition and some superfluous naming conventions for locations that I had already forgotten by the time they were reintroduced. Some effort is made to establish the location of Erical and the plights its community faces, however, this is quickly abandoned and forgotten about as we dive into the main portion of the novel.
There are a few minor spelling and grammar mishaps here and there dotted throughout the novel (at least in the Kindle version) that escaped editing. There wasn’t enough to ruin the overall enjoyment of the story but there were a handful of times where immersion was broken due to odd punctuation or an out-of-place word or phrase. These become more apparent in the later stages of the novel as wording becomes increasingly padded and repetitive.
The story is told through the perspective of our protagonist, April, and for the most part it is told very well mixing her thoughts in with the narration. However, there are a handful of times where this technique leans towards melodrama as the character’s inner soliloquies often feature a lot of repetition and rapid-fire rhetorical questions that don’t serve much of a purpose other than trying to artificially evoke an emotional response from the reader.
There is a perspective change late into the novel after an intense battle with one of the mutated creatures. This isn’t handled very well and initially comes off as very confusing, a subsequent chapter is dedicated to explaining the transition but overall it’s muddled and brings the story to a grinding halt, interrupting the decently crafted flow of the novel up to this point.
With this change of perspective comes a loss of focus, everything the novel has built upon is abandoned at this point as we shift to an almost entirely new story. The last few chapters of the novel attempt to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time and ultimately drags the narrative down.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the novel’s ground-breaking or anything you haven’t read before, it makes for an entertaining read that I’d consider average at the very least. It’s a very ambitious novel that’s torn between telling an engaging story and building upon the lore of its world and as a debut novel it does a fantastic job at showing the potential Blevins has as a writer and I’ve no doubt he’ll create something truly special in future.
Despite a few minor shortcomings I can easily recommend this novel to action and post-apocalyptic survival fans out there. With its clever pacing and non-stop tension the author does a great job of portraying a world in ruins and the horrors that await within, couple that with a likable group of main characters, each with their own skills and attitudes that give the story a solid dynamic, the end result is an enjoyable experience that held my attention for the most part and I’ll be looking forward to what the author has in store next.
~ Giuseppe Gillespie December 2021