The prolific Tim Lebbon – forty novels and umpteen short stories and counting – returns with perhaps his densest and most challenging work yet. The Last Storm is a book that builds upon the environmental themes of 2020’s Eden and envisions a near-future world devastated by global warming where huge expanses of North America have become an arid and hostile territory known as the Desert. But The Last Storm is no finger-wagging rhetoric on the dangers of Man’s mistreatment of his biosphere; at its heart, this is richly-imaginative fantasy, a tale of suffering and redemption, a gritty story laced with violence, monsters and strange and wonderful magic.
Long ago, Jesse was a Rainmaker. By connecting himself painfully to a Heath Robinson device constructed from wood and covered with diodes and wires and dials, he was able to literally summon rain from the clearest skies, bringing relief to the parched lands of a world aflame. But it also brought something else, something monstrous. His daughter Ash inherited his inexplicable (and unexplained) gift and his attempt to stop her resulted in her death. Or so he thought. But Ash is alive and travelling across the scorched wastelands with her new friend Cee. When Ash’s mother Karina discovers that Ash is still alive, she enlists Jesse, her estranged husband, to join her on a desperate quest to find their daughter before she unleashes even more of her uncontrollable power – and the strange, hungry creatures that follow in its wake. But Jesse and Karina aren’t the only ones searching for Ash… someone else is on their trail with his own score to settle…
Like Eden, The Last Storm takes a while to set out its stall and establish its characters, their relationship and the direction of its plot. The first few chapters are, as a result, a little sluggish and heavy-going and Lebbon’s occasionally overwrought prose is a little off-putting in places. But once the story really kicks in and the stakes are properly laid out, the book becomes a propulsive page-turner, studded with moments of extreme and brutal violence and, in a narrative turn that pulls the story into Stephen King’s The Mist territory (never a bad thing), proper body horror. The mystery of the Rainmakers and their strange power and their connection to their homemade machines is never explained, adding a layer of otherworldly mystery and mysticism to a story otherwise firmly rooted in an all-too imaginable future world of famine, drought and terrible human privations. The Last Storm is a powerful and occasionally difficult read and it takes its time to work its own magic but this is, without doubt, another impressive and commanding entry into Lebbon’s ever-growing body of work.
The Last Storm is available now from Titan Books