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Members of the last tribe of reindeer herders discover a body in the melting permafrost of the northern Mongolian steppe, and the virus dubbed the Red Scourge is unleashed on the world. Unaware of the coming pandemic, Rina and Ethan Hampton shop for their first house in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C. After months of searching, they find the perfect place to start their family, with the added bonus of a bomb shelter that Ethan plans to use as his man cave.
Their excitement quickly turns to fear when news of the fast-spreading virus and the havoc it is wreaking around the world becomes public. As the news continues to pour in, the couple realizes the virus is unstoppable. They quickly make provision to survive the plague by locking themselves in the shelter. When they emerge after two months of living in the cramped space, ninety-five percent of the world's population is gone.
Their neighborhood lies in ruins, destroyed by a massive storm. Body bags filled with the dead are stacked in the parking lots of local hospitals. All around them, unknown dangers lurk, but the worst danger unexpectedly appears, adding to the trauma they've already experienced.
Where do you go when your world comes to an end?
"I don’t usually gravitate towards post-apocalyptic, dystopian fare, but when I was gifted The Melt in exchange for an honest review, I was immediately drawn into the story until I ultimately couldn’t put the book down!
With a narrative that presciently echoes our current dilemma with COVID (though the book was begun, per author Ann Werner, months before any of us had even heard of the virus), it’s astonishing how many of the elements resonate so sharply after months of lockdowns, infections, and panic in real life.
Also like our current situation, the inciting event of The Melt begins across the world, when a remote tribe of Mongolian reindeer herders stumbles upon an ancient corpse that’s been uncovered as warming temperatures melt the permafrost. Contact is made as the men explore their find, unknowingly infecting them with a virus that is aggressively transmissible and, unlike COVID (thankfully), invariably fatal. As scientists fly in to investigate the situation, unaware of exactly what they’re dealing with beyond the drama of an archeological find, their travels back home unwittingly carry the virus with them, and before long a full-blown global pandemic has descended on the world. It’s called the “Red Scourge.”
Meanwhile, in suburban Maryland, blithely going about their lives unaware, a young married couple, Rina and Ethan, are excited to have found the house of their dreams, one that, serendipitously, comes with a fully-equipped “safe room” (it was built during the Cold War). Ethan’s excited to turn it into a man cave, while Rina gets a flash of dread about it, foreshadowing the reality that this room will become their sanctuary when the Red Scourge hits them. Which it does in spades.
While the world at large is ravaged by the unrelenting disease and all manner of global hell breaks loose, the terrified Rina and Ethan lock themselves in with little knowledge of how long they’ll be there, helplessly waiting as everything and everyone they know are rendered extinct.
When, after two months, they emerge to find the bulk of humanity and every structures and system that served it gone, they're left to exile themselves to a small town where Ethan’s father owned a cabin. It is there they stumble upon other survivors and begin to carve out a new kind of life, one bereft of all they knew before, but imbued with kindness, collaboration, and hope, compelling the survivors to name their town, New Hope.
But even in this potentially idyllic setting, dangers lurk in the form of an unsavory, sociopathic character who also find his way to the tiny mecca. And just as the community begins to carve out a productive identity, this nefarious interlopers poisons the minds of a few, who rise up to wreak havoc and threaten not only the lives of those building the nascent new world, but any hope of the future.
Werner’s masterful storytelling grounds even the most heightened elements, the science fiction aspects, in truth and believability, and she creates characters that run the gamut, engaging your interest and sympathy, yet keeping you wary and alert as each turn of the page leaves you wishful that the burgeoning light will prevail, while knowing that darkness can make it stand even in the most hopeful of times.
I’ll leave you to discover which wins the battle, but suffice it to say that The Melt is an exciting, suspenseful, even timely exploration of what can happen when a conflation of catastrophic events changes the world and every single person in it, something I think we can now, in this time of COVID, relate to in ways we’d have never imagined."