Publication date: September 7th, 2021 Links:  Amazon  |  Goodreads W hen the poison gas first leaked out of the ground, mankind thought the ...

Review || When The Cicadas Stop Singing by Zachary Ashford

Publication date: September 7th, 2021

When the poison gas first leaked out of the ground, mankind thought the horror would be over in no time.

When the lizard-men followed, swarming the land, slaughtering indiscriminately, those who survived scattered to the hills and the forests. Most did not last long.

But Cora, who found refuge and made a home in the mountains where she lives with the memory of her dead son, still fights. Tenacious, she lives wild and protects that home from the lizards who seek to kill her.

Until now.

Because man has arrived, and he is not friendly.

In this terrifying fight for survival, Zachary Ashford blends the thrills of the creature feature genre with the claustrophobic atmosphere of a home invasion.

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Ashford wastes no time dunking the reader right into the fray and with one sentence commences initiating the tension that will ensue throughout the story. 
The cicadas had fallen silent.
Such a simple sentence and one that could be completely innocuous, but we know there's more at stake here. That sentence begins the contrast of the beauty of nature with the terrible monstrousness of the creatures and the ensuing battle for survival. There's no doubt of the ephemerality of everything human in this new world after the "ruin" as it's christened. 

I like that the story starts without really telling us how we got here. What are the lizard people? Where did they come from? Other than telling us that poisonous gas came first encircling the cities and then these saurian creatures came next, we don't really know much about them. They are pitiless killers, but you can't condemn them for surviving. They aren't the ones to hate here any more than we'd hate crocodiles or say any big cat in the African Safari. They were made to consume and in order to survive and thrive, they have to eat. It's not their fault that one of the easier things on the menu is human.

We only really have three characters, which makes the novella easier to follow versus Sole Survivor. Gone is the big cast with names you don't care about—fodder for the feast if you will. No, here Ashford gets intimate. There's Cora, who has carved out a space in the Australian bush, away from the cities and towns and then there are interlopers, Darren and Sarah. Well, we can't forget about the lizards, but as the methodical hunters and killers that they are, strangely they aren't the biggest threat here. 

Ashford has perfected his main character Cora. She could be me or you. She wasn't built to do this. She doesn't have years of military training or survivalist knowledge. She was, like the rest of the world, thrust into this miasma and it was either adapt or falter. This world has changed her. She's endured but she's not without fault. She's made mistakes that cost her the life of her son. In spite of that, Cora has managed to keep herself alive being resourceful with little bits of material appropriation and newfound awareness along the way. She's carving out an existence alone in the mountains and she likes it just fine that way. When Darren and Sarah show up, she offers them whatever she has just so they will move on and leave her little corner of the forest in relative peace. 

Darren is the kind of villain you love to hate. Ruthless and smart but still stupid somehow. There's a wrongness about him that goes much further than the pure meanness that people can have within their hearts. It's clear from the start that he has a sickness both in body and soul. He's despicable, a stain on humanity, and I want to see him get everything that karma has coming for him. Sarah, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. Is she with Darren simply for survival—riding his coattails for protection?  Does she truly care for him, in which case was he a better person before the shit hit the proverbial fan? It's hard to know exactly where she stands and Cora waffles on that one as well throughout. 

This isn't your typical end-of-the-world survivor slog. Ashford chose a completely weird post-apocalyptic lizard creature stance, sure, but by narrowing the viewfinder to these three characters, he's created something inherently more intimate and ultimately more unsettling.  He puts the horror genre in the spin cycle. What begins as a creature feature evolves into the "human is the real evil" trope and morphs yet again in the last pages. Thrilling and poignant, When The Cicadas Stop Singing is a completely different beast than Ashford's other works. It's unexpected, completely out there, and heartrending.