Genre: Sci Fi, Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic
About The Book
Run. Hide. Survive.
When he finally — violently — escapes his sadistic boss at sex tourism den Flights of Fantasy, Joe has a plan: he and his lover, Devin, will hike over a thousand miles from bleak and barren Austin, deep in the Texas Territory, to the crown jewel of New America’s domed cities, Minneapolis.
Joe’s been planning the escape for years, hoping to locate the father who left him behind, but he has no idea what he’ll find. All Joe wants is to keep Devin safe. All Devin wants is Joe. Life on the road is unforgiving and even more desperate than life in Austin, and it isn’t long before Joe’s careful plan falls apart.
When he and Devin rescue a band of teenagers also on the run from Flights of Fantasy, things go from bad to worse. Battling hunger, thirst, pain, and prejudice, with every stranger more dangerous than the last, Joe will do anything to keep Devin and the teenagers alive. He can’t afford mistakes, and he doesn’t have time for anyone, even Devin, to question his decisions.
But mistakes happen. And Joe finds the hardest questions are the ones he asks himself.
This review contains spoilers for both Dry Run and Flanked. If you haven’t read the first book yet, and you’re interested in dystopian dramas, then check out my review for Dry Run first.
The book begins immediately after the ending of Dry Run. While it probably is necessary to read the first book before this one, Flanked begins with an info-dump summary of the first book. Now freed of the constraints of the sex tourism industry, Joe and Devin are on the road. Joe, a natural-born leader, takes charge of the small group he has become responsible for: Devin, his lover; Peter, a sheltered white boy with racist and homophobic attitudes; Flix, a teenage runaway from Flights of Fantasy with a crush on Joe; and Marcus, Flix’s twin brother. Joe is only 19 but older than his years, and is forced to make decisions and take actions that no one that age should have to. But this is a grim world, and Joe has to do what it takes for them all to survive in a world that is against them at every turn.
I was deeply invested in Joe’s and Devin’s survival; less so Flix, Marcus and Peter at the beginning. But as in the first book, Walter has a way of slowly making us care for characters who at first are insufferable. Flix undergoes some decent character development, transforming from an immature little boy with a crush to a young man who has experienced his first real loss and comes to an understanding of how brutal the world can be. Even Peter, far less developed and a vastly unpleasant character, begins to unravel.
I read Flanked in the week leading up to the 2020 US election, which seems oddly fitting given the setting of the book. In a future where the United States have fractured under polarising social, racial and climate tensions, reading this book while the election played out – and indeed, still anxiously waiting for the results, even as a non-American – felt a little too real at times, and difficult to stomach, which I mean a complimentary way.
The issues that would make readers uncomfortable in the first book, are amplified tenfold here. The world that was established in Dry Run is developed even further here, and it’s even worse than the taste we had of it in the first book. Only white people are allowed to be legal citizens of New America and they’re implanted with chips and have DNA tests done to verify their whiteness. Homosexuality is also illegal. People of colour – referred to as “pocs” in the books – are permitted into the domed cities as housekeepers or servants, and their intake is heavily regulated.
If I’d read this book any other year than 2020, I – as a non-American – may have found this too far-fetched. Unfortunately, it seems painfully relevant in today’s climate, and readers will no doubt find themselves fearing this future is too plausible, and hoping that it will not come to pass.
This is a heavy book, absolutely relentless in dealing with dark topics and the grim, difficult journey these characters find themselves on. The downside of the more detailed worldbuilding and focus on action/dystopia is that the character focus and development that I loved in the first book is pushed to the side, to make room for the external factors that impact them, when I would have loved to see that focus on their emotions and interpersonal interactions explored instead.
Flanked does begin to drag, and it could have benefited from a few more moments of optimism to get us through the sheer weight of Joe’s and Devin’s desperate journey to a “better” life. I was disappointed that Joe and Devin didn’t have more tender scenes together; I felt like they deserved some more downtime to offset the relentless grim journey by foot they were on. (Please, just let them be happy!) I was also a bit miffed that Joe seemed more cut up about Victor’s death than Bea’s death from the first book, which seemed to follow the pattern of sidelining of female characters, but we’re introduced to new characters along the way who are equally dynamic and flawed as the rest of the cast.
Don’t go into this book expecting an easy resolution, or a happy ending. This is an incredibly bleak setting with no end in sight. It isn’t for the faint of heart, and it isn’t for people who want to read a romance; this is an action/adventure dystopian novel first and foremost, with characters who are not easy to like, but can be sympathised with.
This wasn’t an easy read, but I look forward to seeing how – or if – Joe and Devin will find each other again, and how their stories will resolve.
H. L. is a Australian writer of LGBT+ fiction. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.
She is a lesbian of Jewish and of Middle Eastern (Egyptian) heritage and is an #OwnVoices writer. She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. She is the author of M/M fantasy romance novels Heart Of Dust and Soul Of Ash, Books 1 & 2 of the Death’s Embrace series.
She has had two speculative short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection A Tick Tock Heart, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection Just Alice.