Desert Creatures by Kay Chronister

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Desert Creatures by Kay Chronister

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Alex Merrick
Reviewed by Alex Merrick
Summary: Post-apocalyptic fiction can seem pessimistic and a warning as to what can and may very well happen to our planet. It can also be lacking in hope. Kay Chronister's Desert Creatures is hopeful in how it views humanity's faith and will to survive in the face of an uncaring planet.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2023
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1803364995

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With a world that is becoming increasingly inhospitable for humanity, post-apocalyptic fiction can become an almost masochistic thrill. Whether it is a robotic takeover, a world devoid of water or a nuclear holocaust, this genre is a way for humans to cathartically experience their most existential fears. Desert Creatures by Kay Chronister is a new work of post-apocalyptic fiction that aligns many of the fears that exist for humanity today. It is a shocking novel that still manages to find hope.

The novel tells of an unknown devastation that has swept across the United States. The main character, Magdala, is travelling across one of the only habitable places left, the Sonoran Desert, to reach the Holy City of Las Vegas. The theme of divinity and heresy clash throughout the novel and this idea is perfectly encapsulated with the name the Holy City of Las Vegas. In modern times, it is perceived as a den of avarice and lust, however, Christianity has rehabilitated its image in this novel. Chronister is interested in how characters deal with their own belief in an uncaring and, frankly, hostile world. Although the Holy City of Las Vegas plays a large part, our main character Magdala spends a lot of her journey in the desert. Christianity appears throughout the desert too, whether it is the pilgrims travelling to Vegas or the religious sect of cactus sitters and Chronister utilises religion as a mirror to broader themes about humanity.

Within Christianity, the desert is seen as a wilderness and devoid of humanity. It is where Jesus was tested and where the Jewish people wandered for 40 years. In Desert Creatures, Magdala goes through hardships and suffers, although Chronister highlights that the desert is not just a place devoid of humanity, the desert belonged entirely to wilderness, and everything, not only vegetation, not only animals, not only the living, was vulnerable to transformation. Nature is constantly changing, even a desert. Chronister is therefore writing from a place of hope and illustrating that this destitution will not last.

Although this novel has religious elements and themes, it is not a religious novel. It is, first and foremost, about humanity. Like all great post-apocalyptic novels, such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, it illustrates the immutable human ability to persist even under the direst of circumstances. These circumstances could be environmental with the desert or spiritual. “Doesn't God want me to walk right?” No more than God had wanted me to remain comfortable and well-nourished, Chronister foregrounds the religiosity of the novel with the humanity of the characters. They are wracked by spiritual worries as well as physical. This novel is suggesting that, even in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it is not only our physical needs that must be looked after, but our spiritual needs too.

These religious elements collide with Chronister's use of the patriarchy as a malevolent force. Throughout the novel, Magdala is confronted by male figures of authority: an archbishop, a law figure, a familial figure, who all hold power over her. The sense of oppression Magdala feels when confronted by these figures is palpable and Chronister uses it to highlight the implicit element of danger around male figures for young women. 'Tell me what would you do without your father? Big man, shadow long enough for you to hide in…Only thing standing between you and your annihilation. Although the women are always at a disadvantage in Desert Creatures, they are never at a loss and always fight back. Again, Chronister is emphasising the ability for humans to continue surviving against the odds. As the Bible foretold, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Desert Creatures at times can be a hard read. It is filled with struggles and hardships but also optimism. It is an accomplished post-apocalyptic novel because it is not steeped in cynicism. Chronister takes care to write her characters in a way that highlights their humanity, whether that is for good or bad. The world in Desert Creatures is tough, however, even in a barren desert, hope can flourish.

For more dysopian fiction, we can recommend The Testaments by Margaret Atwood - the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.

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