Harry’s Book Review: After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

Book Title: After the Snow
Author: S.D. Crockett
Copyright Date: 2012
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
ISBN: 978-0-312-64169-6
Audio, e-book or foreign translation avail? Yes–Kindle
Suitable for children? Teens probably.

When you find a story predicting that the future is another ice age you know you have found an author who is thinking outside of the box. The global warming crowd is not going to be pleased if this is our future. Not only do we get an Ice Age, but the solar farms and wind farms are a complete failure. Nuclear is king and coal is the next best alternative.

As a consolation prize, just about everyone else’s sacred cow gets gored too by the end of the novel.

The premise behind the novel is that the polar ice caps do indeed proceed to melt, but once they have an impact on the oceans the currents stop and then everything ices up.

The story revolves around Willo, a teenage boy who has only ever known the ice and snow. He has heard the stories of the graybeards. He knows that once upon a time water came out of the walls and the world was warm, but it’s all stories to him. His life is trapping hares so their pelts can be traded for oats and the supplies needed for the family to survive. His family is one of those known as “stragglers”.

Almost all of the world has been moved into the cities, and there is no going back and forth. The cities are fenced in and guarded. There is not supposed to be anyone living up in the hills, but that is where Willo’s family is, their cabin hidden by trees which grate against the walls with the wind. The author does not go into detail about how they subsist except to say that they raise goats and eat poorly. They trade the furs of the hares which Willo traps in order to get supplies. The trading is done through Geraint, a permitted farmer who has Willo’s sister Alice who Geraint got pregnant when she was fourteen.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The story opens with Willo watching his family’s empty house and him wondering what has become of them all. The family has been taken away, but there is nothing to tell him by whom or to where. Deciding that the house is not a safe place to be he loads up some essentials on a sled and heads for a cave he knows up on a mountain.

In the process of traveling to his cave he comes across a starving boy and girl in a derelict cabin. They are waiting for their father to return. Willo discovers a dead man in the barn and decides he doesn’t want the burden of two starving children. He goes on his way and camps that night in the empty cone of a downed windmill. However, he can’t shake the images of the starving children, so the next morning he goes back to get them.

Once he gets there he finds that a pack of wild dogs have found the body of the dead man. Willo is nearly killed by the dogs just trying to get into the cabin. There he finds the boy has already died, and now Willo and the girl, Mary, are trapped by the dogs. Mary doesn’t even want to leave, but Willo persuades her that they must. Although he loses his sled in the process he does manage to fend off the dogs and get away with Mary.

His goal is to take Mary down to the road which goes between the city and the coal mines so that she can get picked up by a truck and taken to the city to live. In the process Willo and Mary run into the “stealers” who live in the forest. Pursued by these cannibals Willo and Mary both end up on the road and are both picked up by a truck and taken into the city.

In the hills Willo knows what to do and how to survive, but in the city he is scared to death and doesn’t know which way to turn. Here Mary is the capable one. She leads him to a place where they can both get some food, and from there they follow a drunken rat trapper to his hidden abode.

Willo isn’t at all comfortable with the situation, and his goal is to find his family. Early in the morning he gets up and leaves Mary behind. In short order he is captured by a gang of children, but then soon freed by one of them who takes him somewhere with the goal of selling his coat so they can purchase some grog (alcohol). She abandons Willo in disgust when he makes it clear that he has not intention of exchanging his coat for grog. Eventually Willo ends up at the home of Jacob, and elderly man who Willo helped out in the streets.

Willo’s jacket is the subject of much interest to Jacob and his wife, especially when they learn that Willo made it himself. Jacob is a furrier, and he has a wealthy client who has commissioned a jacket, but Jacob is getting too old to do the work. Willo is quickly seen as a welcome addition to Jacob’s household, but Willo wants to be out looking for his family. Jacob argues for patience and suggests that Willo needs to have papers in the first place. Thus it is that Willo has to learn how to live in the city.

After living with Jacob and his wife and earning their trust Willo is shown a book which Jacob has carefully hidden under the floorboards in his house. It is a book which Willo recognizes as one his father owned, although his father’s copy lacked a cover and was held together by string. The book is titled “In Search of an Ark” by John Blovyn. The book covers such topics as making snares,tanning hides, childbirth and other survival skills. The mere possession of the book identifies one as a “straggler”, and as such, as a subversive element.

Apparently the greatly subversive message of the stragglers is one of optimism. The hope that things could get better and that one should

seek out a better place is an unacceptable message.

In the past John Blovyn had called his followers to the hills. In this book he is calling them to an island. The authorities are determined to find out where the island is, but for all their infiltration, interrogation and torture they have yet to get an answer. Nonetheless, their efforts continue undeterred.

It comes as a shock to Willo when he learns that Robin Blake was not his father’s real name, but rather John Blovyn. To make matters worse, apparently not only did his father not tell him his real name, but he didn’t love him either and was disappointed in him because he was such a “simpleton” and just wanted to run around in the hills.

Rather than spoil the entire book I will simply say that everything is the opposite of what one would expect. The renowned survival author is gone and his son rejects his hopes, choosing instead to make the most of the world at hand rather than seek out a better place.

A major theme of this book is that things are not going to turn out the way anyone expects. Chinese steel is the good stuff, and Chinatown is where the wealthy live. The premium real estate on the planet is Africa. “Go west” is out. Now the way to head is east.

As long as you are willing to see your own sacred cow served up as hamburger there is value in considering the ramifications of dramatically different outcomes.

After the Snow spares the reader of the details of what could otherwise be graphic scenes. There are plenty of bad things which happen, but most of the details are left to the reader’s imagination.

There is some foul language, but only in a couple of incidents, and there it is a matter of a particular character in the novel. On the other hand, the author’s choice of devices for indicating the degree of sophistication of Willo’s vocabulary may be a nuisance to some readers. Willo speaks in the vernacular of today’s youth using such terms as “cos” instead of “because”. I suppose there may be some who appreciate the use of their preferred vocabulary, and I expect them to be under the age of twenty. Such is probably the intended audience, and this book is a reasonable option for provoking them to consider alternative futures.

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