Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

As a precursor to this book review, I would like to start by telling you that my relationship with horror and post-apocalypse fiction is still in its fledgling stages, and so it’s not an area in which I am well read. I had no desire to read about zombies and vampires as a teen and so my first experiences of gothic horror came at university. Since that time, I have on occasion, every couple of years, read another book which falls into the aforementioned categories, and so by January of this year I had six titles under my belt –

* Dracula – Bram Stoker
* Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
** I am Legend – Richard Matheson
**Cold Earth – Sarah Moss
* The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
*** The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

* Required reading list material
** Gifted
*** Of my own choosing

Despite my early lack of inclination to read horror fiction, what I have read I have been gripped by.

Thirteen years after reading it, I can still conjure the image of screaming horses with red eyes from Dracula, the book that kept me up at night and made me sleep with the radio on so that I didn’t trick myself into hearing scratching noises at the window.

I cried reading Frankenstein when (spoiler alert), the monster is so cruelly rejected from the poverty-stricken family he has watched over and cared for.

I am Legend and The Day of the Triffids gave me a great insight into 1950s sci-fi horror trends. I was genuinely sceptical about how scary a plant could be until I read about the triffids and Wyndham’s skill at displaying the vulnerability of suddenly sightless humans.

Above all of these, the book that gave me chills was the aptly named Cold Earth by Sarah Moss. This apocalyptic dystopian fiction really rattled me, and had it not been gifted to me as a birthday present I can honestly say that I would never have picked it off the shelf. A story about an archaeological dig in Greenland? No thanks.

I’ve never been more gratefully humbled by judging a book by its blurb, (not the cover which is exquisite, covered with macabre skulls and embossed veins, while the page edges are stained blue). It is one of the best books I have ever read, and one which tends to go slightly more under the radar of Sarah’s collection of work, from what I have researched. Combining a barren landscape, encroaching darkness, buried truths, ghost stories, paranoia and isolation and an outbreak of a widespread deadly plague, the minds of the archaeologists begin to unravel and so too did mine.

The lesson that I learned from all of these books is how compelling good horror fiction can be, and is why I now strive to read more of it, starting with Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff.

I read this book in one day, starting at 10am and finishing at 11.30pm. This had not been my intention when I began it, but is testament to how compelling I found it.

Set in a desolate post-apocalypse Ireland, this is a deadly pilgrimage in search of safety, and a longed-for cure for the zombie beings called skrake. Bleak roads, derelict buildings with dusty hand prints and ominous brown stains indicate the danger that has swept the land. Sarah has done a magnificent job of writing notoriously difficult fight scenes, bringing to (after-)life her foul deathly creatures. It is an unrelenting and brutal story, made all the more vivid by the use of sensory detail in the pungent smells and physical pain of Orpen’s experiences. It is a fantastic debut novel, and in my opinion, a great credit to horror fiction… but I’m still not over Danger (if you know, you know).