Dancing in the Dust by Gwendolyn Pendraig

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I received this as a book review request in exchange for an honest review. This book will most appeal to people who like post-apocalyptic worlds, first person present narration, and very very dark fantasy.

This is the first time I’ve DNF’d a review request, I really tried with this one, and I’ll explain below why this just wasn’t for me. I made it 45% into the book, so I’ll still do a shorter review on it in case the things that bother me won’t bother you.

Warning: I’m going to quote a lot of rape scenes directly from the book. They are gratuitous.


Plot:

A plague has hit Earth and most of the living world has been wiped out, not just humans. Life struggles to exist in a world that’s covered in dust and debris. The Dust is what carries the plague from person to person, it doesn’t seem to be contagious in the typical ways of disease.

The humans that are left are absolutely beyond words brutal, I’ve read a lot of dark books but this one is the darkest I’ve read in a very, very long time – if ever. Men are living like packs of monsters roaming the landscape in search of women to murder and rape and eat. Cannabilism is normal and has been going on for some time.

From what I can gather of the first half of the book, the main character Ayla, goes around finding these groups of men and killing them, while also trying to rescue the women they’ve enslaved.


Characters:

Ayla has lived one of the worst lives of any character I’ve ever encountered. Even before the plague hit which lead to the brutality of the present day, even in normal modern-day America she was being severely traumatized. Her father was a rapist and repeatedly molested her as a child and teen, leading to a pregnancy. On the way to the hospital when she was either miscarrying or giving birth (this is the scene where I dnf’d), she was hit in the face by her father because she was bleeding and ‘making a mess’ while miscarrying. So, not only has she been beaten and raped after the plague, it had been this way all her life.

She’s turned into someone who has no mercy and enjoys killing the men who are doing these terrible things to others. She has a dog named Hope, which I liked, they’ve become incredibly bonded and Hope saves her more than once.

She has heightened senses which at the beginning of the book she says she can’t explain, I’m not sure if it’s ever explained, but, she can hear a deer drinking water from a pond half a mile away.

There is a secondary character known simply as “The Other Guy”, and he’s the person who rapes the protag about 20% into the book. All I know about his plotline is that he’s been injured by the protag, and wants to seek revenge.


World Building:

“President Windross became Emperor Windross within the first eight years of his landslide victory, and America never saw another election. At the time the plague hit, the USATG (The United State of America the Great, incorporating what were once known as Canada and Mexico) was ruled by Emperor Humphrey Windross Bogart Jr.”

I’m not sure if that’s a Trump reference or not, it was published in 2017, so it’s possible. Whether it is or not, America took a turn for the worse right before the worst plague in known history devastates the globe.

The plague is known as Bubble Flu, it’s spread with the Dust and the CDC gave up trying to find a cure for it, advising people to stay indoors. It creates a red oozing rash that quickly consumes the body and leads to death.

There’s something different about Hope, Ayla is convinced that she’s not a normal dog, she’s too intelligent and too diligent to be just another dog. I don’t know if there’s any explanation behind it.


Writing/Tone:

This is written in the first person present, which isn’t something I come across all that often. It’s very descriptive and takes a lot of time involving the environment in the prose. The character is aware of the audience and speaks to “you” throughout the book almost as if it’s a conversation.

There’s a fair amount of cursing, there’s a lot of graphic violence and a ton of disturbing imagery. This is not a book for someone who doesn’t like the grim dark genre.

 


Pacing:

I was thrown off a lot because there are a lot of flashbacks that the protag has, it’s part of how the world building is done, actually. I think my problem with the pacing was more about enjoyment, and less about what was actually going on in the book. I was almost afraid to turn the next page.


Originality:

Well, this is the first book I’ve read like this.


Personal Enjoyment:

Ok, so here’s where I’m going to explain why I DNF’d. I’ve read a lot of rape in books, and it’s not something that immediately turns me away from a book. Where Loyalties Lie is in my top ten for my favorite SPFBO books. So, it’s not that. It’s just how much of this book was rape. There was rape in every single chapter of the book up to where I got to.

It was also just…. exceedingly graphic. I’m going to include some quotes

 

  • “There are ten men besides the woman. They all took their turn raping her after their dinner. She didn’t put up a fight of course, but there’s no way she wanted that” 
  • “If the men lose interest or come across a better specimen, willing or not, the woman will often be sacrificed to other needs. Everyone misses the taste of sweet, mammalian flesh and these men are not planning for the preservation of the human race.” 
  • “The rhythmic slapping of flesh becomes more apparent the further I run. The nightly satisfaction” 
  • “I catch one guy crowing that they’d eat well tonight”…. “Bet you wish you’d stayed laid down like a good dog now don’t you? Dogs that run away or disobey get put down” 
  • “The last man doing his business is still pumping away, seemingly oblivious to the chaos around him” — this was taking place when she was attacking the ten men. his buddies are getting slaughtered all around him, and he’s supposedly totally not paying attention to dudes screaming getting their throats slit
  • “A pinioned and spreadeagled young woman, who thankfully seemed to already be dead, being violated with a knife by another woman, far older. Two men watching. Her naked breasts swinging like pendulums as she turned to pleasure them” 

Ok so, all of that happens in the first 10% of the book. I’m only 20 pages in at this point.

But, I keep going. I thought perhaps that it was a shocking intro and leads to her taking vengeance from this point out. But, it does not. It flashbacks to the rape she endured with her father, then she herself was raped again at about 20% into the book.

What really just didn’t work for me is that this is only a decade or two after society fell to the plague. I just have a hard time believing that people will stoop to these levels given 10-20 years of lawlessness. Murder and rape, yeah. But this just seems completely over the top.

I kept going.

It’s when I got to the scene with the father beating the shit out of his daughter who he impregnated that I just stopped. If nothing else, in modern day America you can’t just clock your daughter in the face and then take her to the hospital. Questions will be asked, dude would probably get arrested, even the most morally corrupt person usually has more common sense than that, I had a big problem with suspension of disbelief here.

Basically, my biggest problem with the book wasn’t even the rape, per se – but how I couldn’t get myself to believe this could all happen to humanity in just a decade.


Audience:

  • For people who like apocalyptic fantasy
  • For people who like vengeance stories
  • For people who like violence
  • For people who like dark fantasy
  • For people who like first person narration

Not for People

  • who don’t like reading about rape
  • who don’t like cursing

Final Score: DNF

This book does have several 5 star reviews and many positive reviews as well, so, for alternative perspectives here’s the Goodreads Link

 

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