Book Review: The Doomsday Kids #3: Amaranth’s Return by Karyn Langhorne Folan

Amaranth's ReturnAmaranth’s Return
The Doomsday Kids Book 3
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, December 2014
ISBN 978-0990804345
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Rod Wasserman is dying of radiation poisoning. His last wish: to return to the Wasteland of Washington DC to see if there’s any hope that his mother has survived the nuclear blast.

Amaranth Jones has a wish, too: for the chance to redeem herself. To do that, she must leave Liam Harper and her friends at the Mountain Place and never return. When she discovers Rod packing to leave, she insists on joining him, whether he wants her company or not.

As they make their way back to ground zero, the two teens confront the horrors of their post-apocalyptic world. Food and water are scarce; nuclear winter has killed both plants and animals. Human life has little meaning and some desperate survivors have surrendered to the ultimate inhumanity: cannibalism. Threatened by weather, other survivors and their own demons, Amaranth and Rod must learn to trust each other if they have any hope of making it through hell and back. As Rod grows weaker, Amaranth is forced to make difficult choices to ensure their survival. How far will she go to help Rod achieve his last wish? And if they find Rod’s mother, can the three of them make it back to the Mountain Place alive?

Heartbreak. That’s what Amaranth’s Return is all about at its core.

Whew. I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and of this series in particular but this episode is as gut-wrenching as anything I’ve read in this subgenre and, yet, I’m not the least bit sorry I read it. Amaranth and Rod have so very much going against them but they still manage to keep their goals in mind. Rod’s goal is to find out if there’s enough left of Washington, DC, that his mother might have survived the nuclear attack. Amaranth’s goal is much simpler—to help Rod achieve his.

The interesting thing about these two teens is that, for long stretches of the story, their ages were irrelevant. The horrible experiences they have would have been no better if they’d been adults and they have the shared bond of being in high school together, not that those years were a wonderful time for Amaranth. We learned much about these kids in the first two novels but now is when we get a much clearer picture of who they were and, more importantly, who they are now.

Ms. Folan has created a post-nuclear holocaust world that is entirely realistic and frightening and I frequently found myself wishing Rod would die because the author’s depictions of his radiation sickness are so intense and devastating. The journey Rod and Amaranth have undertaken is a quest but is also their time to come to a hardwon acceptance of past and present. They’ll meet others along the road who are suffering in their own ways and two will have a real impact on them but, in the end, this is the story of a pair of young people trying to accomplish something truly important even if it only matters to them.

My only criticism of Amaranth’s Return is that I felt the conclusion was rushed but the fourth book, Amy’s Gift, is about to come out; believe me, I’ll be on it like white on rice 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.



Book Review: Nester’s Mistake by Karyn Langhorne Folan

Nester's MistakeNester’s Mistake
The Doomsday Kids Book 2
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, September 2014

From the author—

Since the nuclear apocalypse, it’s a shoot first, ask questions later world. Following their perilous escape from their Washington, DC suburb, the surviving Doomsday Kids reach their mountain safe house, only to discover their troubles have just begun.

Their hope of finding the protection and guidance of an adult is dashed: there is no one there to help them and they are still children who must find a way to survive alone. Book-smart fifteen year old Nester Bartlett got good grades in his life before the bombs, but has no skills for his new life of tending animals, keeping the fires lit and defending their cabin against intruders. When circumstances thrust him into the role of reluctant leader, threats bombard him at every turn: from the weather, from a nearby correctional facility and from the kids’ own grief. Inexperienced with firearms and conflicted about killing people, Nester struggles with whether there is a place for compassion in this new, lawless world. Then nuclear winter overtakes them, the crops die and the animals succumb to radiation sickness. But when one of their number suffers a medical emergency, Nester must make a desperate choice that shatters their little community and irrevocably alters their hopes of survival.

Nester’s Mistake continues the tale of a small group of kids, mostly teens, who are struggling to survive a nuclear attack. Nester is perhaps the one who is most challenged by their circumstances and, yet, the most able to cope besides Liam, who grew up with a survivalist father.

Nester’s test comes largely from the fact that he is unprepared on all fronts to survive a disaster but his strength lies in his book smarts and in his ability to rise above his insecurities and do what has to be done. He is now, by default, the leader of the group as Liam has been grievously wounded and the others look to Nester to make decisions and do the heavy lifting, so to speak. Among other things, Nester has to keep the peace between the original group and its latest additions, Katie and Marty, but his real trial is his guilt over the death of his younger brother, Nate, who is now spending a  lot of time in Nester’s head.

Liam’s condition deteriorates and, determined not to let another of their group die, after Nate and Lilly, some of them stay behind to guard the cabin while Nester, Amaranth and Katie head out in the snow to get help from a neighboring veterinarian. What they find will present a test of their collective courage beyond what they could have imagined.

As in the first book, Liam’s Promise, character and plot are both real strengths in this story which takes place just 18 days after the bombs fell. Ms. Folan never slights the horrific conditions that would follow a nuclear disaster down to the details of how children would feel and react when left to their own devices and the fear and anger as well as the protective care for others that quickly develop. Each of these kids have something to offer the group and they soon learn to rely on each other and, unfortunately, to fear the rest of the world. The Doomsday Kids are, indeed, faced with horrors and regrets and anger and deep, deep sadness. Ms. Folan sugarcoats nothing.

As for the kids themselves, every single one is sympathetic in spite of their shortcomings. Amaranth contends poorly with her past while Rod and Amy, who used to be a power couple, looking down on such “losers” as Nester and Liam, prove themselves to have a depth of character no one would have anticipated. Newcomers Katie and Marty are a pair to be reckoned with and have begun to prove their worth to the rest of the group. Taken alone, none of these kids would have fared well, with the possible exception of Liam who’s had survivalist training, but they shine as a group, warts and all.

The only real quibble I have is with the cover. It really doesn’t fit since so much is made of the fact that Nester wears glasses and actually does need them.

TEOTWAWKI—the end of the world as we know it—has come and now the Doomsday Kids must find it in themselves to not only survive but survive with their humanity intact. What will happen next depends largely on how they’ll cope with a split in their number and the need to consider a very long trek to an uncertain safety. I’m already eagerly awaiting the third chapter, Amaranth Returns, due out in December.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2014.