Harry Potter meets the 2016 US presidential campaign:
I have to start this book review with an apology. I found it almost impossibly difficult to concentrate objectively on the story and the writing because Five Days in January is such an eerie precognition of events that played out in Orlando last week.
Consider the events of R.T. Lowe’s new dystopian thriller Five Days in January:
- Felix and his friends live in a contemporary America where violence is becoming the norm, made possible by easy legal access to weapons.
- The one person that people rally behind would seem to epitomize everything they hate—a billionaire who flaunts his history of manipulating the financial and political system to reap untold personal riches and benefits, and who brags about his beautiful women and wealth. But he tells supporters what they want to hear: the current government is the source of every evil, responsible for every one of their personal losses or failures, and anybody else’s success was actually stolen from what was rightfully theirs.
- Becoming the leader of the very political party who had opposed him, he calls for opposition to and victory over the current government by claiming that they are the ones responsible for allowing murdering monsters into the country, and thus all resulting death and bloodshed are actually the current government’s fault.
- Any who oppose him are called “politically correct”, liars, or bloodstained murderers.
This is a book which was written last year, and released over a month ago. It’s a dystopian science fiction tale, and yet chillingly prescient, especially for someone reading it as I did—while news reports unfolded of a mass murderer slaughtering innocent people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Next day I stood in a crowd in London as literally tens of thousands of people grieved for those targeted. When people around me realized I was American, they asked me over and over, how America could keep letting things like this happen.
Against that backdrop, the monster at the head of the political party challenging the sitting government in R.T. Lowe’s Five Days in January sounds eerily familiar:
“The government,” Lofton began after concluding his introductory pleasantries, “has broken its social contract. It no longer serves the people, it serves interests, and those interests are not aligned with the safety, prosperity and welfare of our society. The President and our leaders in Congress are beholden to these interests, who in turn, ensure they remain in power. This, my friends, is about to change.” … “What happens when zealots are allowed to murder in the name of self-serving, reactionary ideologies?” … “So we have a message for our leaders sitting at home watching in their mansions paid for with the blood of our children. We are not afraid, and we are coming! Today, we are putting you on notice. Your time has come to an end. We are no longer going to live in fear. We demand freedom.”
And then I heard Donald Trump, his party’s presumptive presidential candidate, echo the words of the monster.
Of course, this is fiction. Felix and his friends are freshmen at Portland College, trying to concentrate on classes and finals. But they aren’t immune from outside events as the country seems to be breaking down. One friend’s brother is trapped in a “random” mall shooting. A political organization that everyone had initially laughed about now seems to claim a majority of his classmates as members. Well-armed shooters arrive on his campus.
In addition, Felix and his best friend Allison are still trying to understand and control the powers they have each been developing, and come to terms with the possibility that Felix might be the Chosen One. And their world is full of human, inhuman, and semi-human monsters as well.
But this is where the book breaks with the Chosen One trope (in which destiny chooses an ordinary person to be the only one who can save the world as we know it). In what I think moves it well beyond the first book in the series (see my review of The Felix Chronicles: Freshman), Felix and Allison begin to question “The Warning” prophecy, and roles they’ve been given. Is the Chosen One really a hero? Is The Warning really a prediction of what will happen, or just a statement of the threat of what could happen?
In so many ways, this middle volume of the series shows a matured writing style. The entire book is tighter, shorter, and more on-target than Book 1. Felix and Alison, as well as supporting characters, struggle to understand events as they rapidly unfold at ever-escalating pace. The plot twists are nonstop, and almost no character is actually who and what you think they are. Poor Felix and Allison struggle to adjust to their new abilities, while also worrying about making it to classes and keeping up with college assignments.
Yes, there is still that Harry Potter/Chosen One vibe. Felix is like Harry—to state it mildly—not only magically gifted, but a bit stupid, and tremendously lucky in his narrow escapes. Like the first book, Five Days in January still dances on a knife-edge between dark fantasy and horror, while the plot continues to ramp up the blood and gore levels even as Felix and Allison grow into their ever-increasing powers.
But overall, Five Days in January is not only a terrific thriller, it is clearly one that surpasses the first book in the series in almost every way. It’s that fact that made me forgive R.T. Lowe for the contrived cliffhanger ending. But we’re going to need that final volume to answer all our remaining questions. Will Felix ever get a clue? Or a date? Will Allison tell him what’s going on? Will anyone at Portland College be alive for finals? Will The Chosen One save America from monsters and a rightwing authoritarian extremist regime?
(Personally, I’m betting that Allison’s got it covered. #I’mWithHer)
BlurbFelix and Allison return from winter break with hopes of settling into the comfortable rhythms of college life only to find Portland College hasn’t escaped the wave of senseless violence sweeping across the land, from the malls of Minnesota to a small town in northern Maine. Amidst the chaos, a political movement rises, fueled by the turmoil threatening to tear the country apart. As the public’s discontent reaches a final tipping point, a new hope emerges from an unexpected figure, a man offering the promise of peace and security—the prospect of ‘freedom from fear’. When the line that separates allies from enemies blurs and good and evil becomes a matter of perspective, Felix must make a choice. But as the gears of a 2,000-year-old prophecy grind inexorably to the future, can Felix choose his own path, or is free will as illusory as the salvation promised by a man destined to set the world aflame?
- Book Title: Five Days in January (Book 2: The Felix Chronicles)
- Author: R. T. Lowe
- Genre: Dark Urban Fantasy/Horror
Length: 335 pages
Publisher: Amazon Digital (May 18, 2016)
- Contact Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Twitter: @TheRTLowe
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*