Dark Inside, Vacouver writer Jeyn Roberts’ debut, was an apocalyptic tale in which the beginning of the end of civilization was marked by a series of earthquakes hitting the West Coast of North America. Immediately following the seismic shocks, the majority of humanity became homicidal maniacs with black-veined eyes, indiscriminately slaughtering friends, family members, entire towns. Those who didn’t succumb to the bloodlust (a.k.a. “normals”) dubbed these human killing machines “baggers,” after the casual term hunters use to describe bringing down prey.
That earlier book followed four teenaged normals as they converged on Vancouver, dodging bagger attacks before finally coming together by the book’s end. Rage Within picks up the narrative three months after the first earthquakes. The foursome, now at the centre of a fragile community, is living in an abandoned house, conducting nightly missions in search of food and other survivors.
The baggers, however, are no longer mindless killing machines. They’ve built a concentration camp on the site of the Plaza of Nations (part of Vancouver’s Expo ’86 grounds), and converted the adjacent casino into a prison. Normals are used for labour – clearing bodies and working on infrastructure projects. The baggers are rebuilding the world in their image, but who is guiding them? And can a dysfunctional community of teenagers survive in a world gone mad?
Rage Within builds off Dark Inside, continuing the story with none of the awkwardness second books in a series often succumb to. It’s taut, suspenseful, and satisfying, with well-drawn characters and an imaginative world built on the ashes of familiar settings. It does not, however, stand alone: readers coming to this book without reading the first volume will be lost, and the novel ends with a clear set-up for the next instalment.
Readers should also heed the age recommendation. The book’s brutality and existential darkness would be disturbing in an adult novel; for a YA audience, the increased accessibility makes the reading experience uncomfortable, to say the least.