Book Review: SALT: A POST APOCALYPTIC THRILLER by Colin F. Barnes

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Colin F. Barnes begins a new series with SALT: A POST-APOCALYPTIC THRILLER, and I have to say, he really scratches my itch for apocalyptic settings. The title is apt: while the world has ended, this is a thriller down to its bones, and the book’s best and worst aspects are a direct result of this.

***Giveaway details at the end of the post***

The world has drowned, and Salt takes us to perhaps the only surviving attempt at civilization: a flotilla of wrecked ships of all kinds, boarded and tethered and strapped together. The setting is great, and Barnes brings us an environment both real and appropriately speculative. With saltwater all around, failing power, and interpersonal struggles, there’s plenty to drive the action, but the character-generated conflicts fall a bit short.

The narrative switches between Eva Morgan, a former detective suffering survivor’s guilt, and the flotilla’s captain, Jim Reynolds. The contrast between them is well done, but Eva, the more active of the two, feels a little cookie cutter. A grieving ex-cop with a tough exterior but a clinical mind and an eye for detail? Great to lead a story, and she has a good moral compass, but I’ve seen her before.

Jim’s chapters, by comparison, show a man struggling to keep his environment alive. His problems in doing what’s necessary to survive are real, which is good, but they didn’t resonate with me as much as they could have due to perhaps my biggest problem with Salt: the worldbuilding.

The first fifteen pages introduce as many named characters, but all of them remain important, so I wasn’t overwhelmed. The problem is, they’re explained into the story with little work behind them. We have Marcus Graves, who fills the role of dubious gang kingpin, but we’re never told why he controls a third of the flotilla with a crew of four people, when he’s described as universally despised. Then we have Susan Faust, who leads an exclusive and aggressive religious cult, but they, like Graves, feel like they’re only there to provide conflict. Without a believable foundation for these problems, the emotional journey Eva and Jim take toward resolving them doesn’t hit as well as it could. Having said that, once they get going, the ride is enjoyable with a few good surprises.

On the technical side, the book has a few slips. For one, the names of the ships that comprise the flotilla aren’t italicized, and that detail could have done a lot to make the setting feel real. There are also some one-sentence paragraphs that are a bit too compact, which jilts the pacing a bit. But Barnes has a thorough editing process, and, man, look at that cover and typeface! He puts a lot of work into his fiction and his brand, and it shows.

Despite a rocky start and a few blemishes, Salt kept me engaged. I tore through it with the pace appropriate for a thriller, and figuring out the larger conflicts lurking in the story’s framework was fun enough that I want to see what happens next. The ending is great; we have the right amount of unanswered questions, a clear path forward, and no awkward cliffhangers. Colin F. Barnes has set us up for another adventure, and I for one am looking forward to book two.

Giveaway: Colin is offering five ebook copies (Kindle and epub) to our newsletter subscribers. Giveaway ends next Monday at 11:59 PM CDT. Worldwide entries accepted.
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Jared W. Cooper is a Jersey-born writer, gamer, and mostly-coherent genre geek. Between slush reading, writing groups, and editing, he consumes short stories like most people breathe. His Kindle is armed to the teeth, with William Gibson and Ursula le Guin headlining his favorites shelf. His reviews, essays, and the odd short fiction piece can be found, sporadically, at Jaredwcooper.org

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