I recently enjoyed Kay Chronister’s DESERT CREATURES, a novel about a future slow apocalypse due to environmental catastrophe.
In this story, toxic rain has driven humanity into the desert, where clever businessmen have set up a religion based in Las Vegas to establish and maintain their power and wealth. In this dangerous and evolving world, Magdala, a child, struggles to survive and wants to make a pilgrimage so that a saint will heal her clubfoot, a deformity where the foot is turned inward. The novel follows her life in a world that is slowly dying along with a heretic priest who may be able to perform miracles.
This is an odd one, I have to say that first. The environment is hostile but also evolving, developing new strange life forms and imposing escalating pressure on human biology and society until it is barely subsisting and seems ready to simply join the desert itself. There is a lot of religion. The narrative jumps protagonists and then forward in time, with a lot of wandering and frustrated hopes and no clear theme, making the story feel a little disjointed with some readers likely wondering, what’s the story here, and where is this all going?
Yeah, okay, but I liked it. It’s less one thing than a collection of things, and the mosaic they formed caught me. The new desert life in particular was interesting and weird, I liked the adaptation of Christianity to cowboy saints and casinos, the ongoing degradation of society is pretty bleak, and the story drags you through the dirt and dust while maintaining a mythic feel to it, with some fantasy elements as strange as the landscape.
Overall, I admired what Chronister was trying to do here in this ambitious, different novel. It didn’t quite come together for me as a reader to make it a favorite, but I enjoyed the aspiration and what I received, enough to say, hey, take a look and see if this one might be for you.