Short Take: I loved it, but I didn’t enjoy it.
I don’t read dystopian fiction. It probably sounds weird coming from a horror nut like me, but usually, dying-world stuff is just too depressing. That’s one of my favorite things about horror: the good guys usually win. There might be a few casualties along the way, but usually, the terrifying thing is killed or banished or in some way shut down.
Not so with dystopian fiction. It usually begins after what I consider to be the real story, after the good guys have lost, and the world has been destroyed. Sometimes it’s fun, like in Bird Box, because the event that brought about the end of the world was just so weird and so out-there, I was able to just relax and enjoy the ride.
The Last Supper is a horse of an entirely different hue. For starters, the world has been ravaged not by aliens or monsters but by our own stupidity and greed. The mega-fertilizers and genetic modification applied to the corn have led to mutations in the plant life, and destroyed nearly all of our food supplies. The governments have fallen, and been replaced by a religious sect (The Divine Rite) that periodically tests the citizens to make sure they are following the rules, and if they don’t, they are poisoned by the titular Last Supper.
John Welland is good man, a rule-following man, until his wife fails her exam, and dies after eating her Last Supper. Something within him breaks, and suddenly, he sees what he’s been missing for so long: how can a society that ostensibly is devoted to maintaining a clean food supply and keeping its citizens alive kill those citizens for the smallest of infractions?
He begins rebelling in small ways at first, defacing posters, sampling forbidden alcoholic beverages, keeping a journal of all of his “wrong” thoughts (shades of 1984, anyone?). He eventually joins a small group of rebels who seek to bring down the Divine Rite, including one of his twin daughters, Kaya, the beautiful Genevieve, Christoff, who can fix anything, Turpin, who always has booze, and Genevieve’s father, Harry.
Sure, it doesn’t sound like my usual brain-candy, but I know that Allison Dickson is a terrific author, so I’ll probably like it, right?
Don’t get me wrong. This is a great book. The pacing is, as always, Ms. Dickson’s greatest strength. She knows how to throw some crazy-quick action at you, then let you catch your breath with scenes that showcase her skill in characterization. Did I mention how amazing the characters are? They really are the high point of this book. Whether they are mourning or laughing, you’re doing it right along with them. She also knows just how to reveal secrets, in great bursts, and in small, slowly growing increments.
I also Capital-L Love the references to other myths. Anansi was an obvious one, but there were also shades of poor cursed Cassandra, doomed to be able to foretell the future, but not to be believed.
So why didn’t I “like” this book? Probably because I’ve spent the last week reading reports of how our own government systematically tortured hundreds of people, at least one to death, and many of which were innocent. It might have something to do with the fact that a few jagoffs with computers half a world away may have irreparably damaged a major movie studio just by making a few vague threats. Or maybe it’s the way some of our leaders are fighting harder and harder to take away the rights of people who don’t share their religious beliefs, and in some cases, they are winning. Perhaps it’s the far-too-many stories of police officers killing unarmed men because they “looked threatening”.
It’s hard to enjoy a book in which the people are cattle, and the government is out of control, and innocent people are killed for just the barest appearance of wrongdoing, and our food is slowly poisoning us, when, well, I’m getting the same things on my news feed. This may be the first “fantasy” novel I’ve read that was actually pretty honkin realistic. I don’t think that this was necessarily a black mark against The Last Supper, however, more a commentary on the state of the world today.
My only real gripe was that the first part of the book was kind of an info-dump. It took me a while to get hip to the lingo, and I had to keep backtracking to double-check various terms. Of course in a book like this, it’s necessary, when the world changes, so does our language (selfie, I’m looking at you), but it broke up the rhythm of the early part of the book for me. Also, the ending was a bit ambiguous, I’m still not 100% sure exactly what happened. But damn, the final words were powerful.
The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS