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Jeff Gonsalves
The Acolyte of Apocalypse
Elliott Anderssen is a disturbed young boy with a dangerous psychic talent: when he gets angry, he can make your worst fears spring to life. His mother is a paranoid recluse who keeps him locked in his bedroom for days at a time. One night, in a fit of desperation, Elliott transforms their home into a fiery vision from Hell, drawing the militia's attention. A frantic chase results in the detainment of Elliott in a maximum-security seclusion tank. Elliott's uncle Chuck is an operative working for the very institution that has imprisoned his nephew. Soon Chuck embarks on a moral roller-coaster ride, uncertain whether to protect his nephew or society. Elliott is reeling on the brink of despair when Chuck hires a band of renegade soldiers to smuggle him out of the Genetics Bureau. After a tragic escape attempt, Chuck and Elliott board a skim-cruiser headed into a wasteland uncharted by man. Pursued by the military and an android stalker, their only hope is to reach a leper colony that may not exist. Assaulted by radiation, bizarre creatures, and a growing sense of dread, the band edges into the unknown. Shadowing every minor victory is the suspicion that Elliott cannot control his psychic ability and is unconsciously using it against the people he loves the most.
Gonsalves’s second in the Subnorm series paints a gruesome picture of a post-apocalyptic future where those considered subhuman are fair game for unpleasant government practices. One subnorm, Chuck Anderssen, is considered non-threatening but useful to those in power due to his telepathy gift. Closely monitored at work and his home in an Anomaly Camp, Chuck works to keep his nephew, Elliott, under government radar—but when Elliott loses control and his reality-altering powers are revealed, he is taken in for testing. Chuck risks everything to help Elliott escape to a safe mutant colony, along with the help of other subnorms and hired mercenaries.

Gonsalves proves adept at keeping readers on edge—even uncomfortable— with unexpected twists and jolts of graphic action, all set against the ugliness of a vividly realized post-apocalyptic world that no one would want to live in. Subnorms are tortured to force their abilities to the surface, in the hopes of grooming them into super-soldiers, though if they are deemed too dangerous the government gives them radiation treatment to remove their psychic powers. Gonsalves’s descriptions are haunting, and life outside the government buildings isn’t much better—the land is mostly dead, and continual radiation damages everything in sight. Once the travelers cross the “Risk Zone” in their efforts to survive, they encounter unspeakable trauma.

Gonsalves’s characters exhibit intricate personalities and complicated lives, not breaking down into simple binaries of good and evil. Moral dilemmas abound, and even those who strive to do the right thing regularly question what that is. Gonsalves’s background in pediatric oncology shines in his creation of child characters who are rich in complexity and deal with their harsh realities in unique ways, and fans of dark, dystopian fantasy will root for them to find their happy ending. This harrowing story will stick with readers long after the last page.

Takeaway: A nightmarish, post-apocalyptic journey of one man who is willing to risk it all to save his powerfully gifted nephew.

Great for fans of: C.A. Fletcher’s A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, William B. Forstchen’s One Second After.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A