Part fantasy, part western, part sci-fi, and all dystopia, Kate Wrath’s E manages to cram a great deal in, all while remaining a distinctly human story. Although filled with vividly described agony and bloodshed, it’s at its core a tale of companionship and loss, of a family unit trying to defy the awfulness of the outside world.
Eden is our protagonist, a beautiful young woman who wakes up – having been locked tight in a dark box – with no idea who she is. The world she finds is basically a sealed-off frontier town, where gangs of armed men roam around being tough hombres and doing pretty much whatever the hell they like. The only thing to stop them getting completely out of hand are the giant robot sentries which patrol the town and stop ultra violence (or other subversive things, like democracy). At first Eden is forced to hide herself, lest – young and beautiful as she is – she gets picked up by a slaver. But gradually she finds a home, makes connections, eases her sense of disorientation at the loss of her old identity through becoming part of a family. But, of course, with a family she now has much more to lose.
In E, Wrath has created a tale full of empathy, about the strengths and weaknesses of people. I was most impressed by her incredible ability to ramp up the peril again and again, so you realise – as you’re reading it – that even the most desperate looking odds can become yet more desperate. I’m sure there are some who may think it’s too dark, it’s too hopeless, but I’d disagree. I think Wrath just manages to keep a sense of salvation in sight the whole time, even if it is often a glimmer right at the horizon.