The Red by Aiden Riley


The Year is 2020 and a small band of survivors wanders around a devastated northern England in Book One of Aiden Riley’s The Red – a terrible virus has ravaged humanity, transforming the infected into cannibalistic zombies and plunging the small remainder of mankind into an apocalyptic existence defined by roaming and fighting. With graphic violence, crude language, and some strong sexual references, this not a story not for everyone. The action is heart-pounding and draws the reader in immediately, but Riley’s high-aiming prose and moody descriptions still allow for romanticism in the grim, wind-swept tale of survival, rivalry, and comradery. The novel balances the bleak and brutal present with golden reminiscences from life before the disaster – each character is dreaming about the past and missing someone. While the title literally refers to the red eyes of the infected enemy, it also resonates strongly with the forces of love and violence that drive the plot.

Symbolic language like this is crucial here – Riley’s lofty manner of writing adds a special charm to the narrative voice. The innumerable figurative qualities in the descriptions are a strong suit of the author, and the prose builds its own character through its idiosyncrasies. It is a style of writing, however, that is shockingly awkward – although Riley’s voice is special, the novel is weighed down by the tiring insistence on this adjective-heavy, figurative speech. The reader cannot help but trip up along the constant issues of misspellings and improper punctuations that riddle the entire text. The narration is ceaselessly heavy, convoluted, and redundant. At times, the clumsy writing makes it impossible to discern who is doing what to whom in a flurry of gender pronouns. Riley’s feverish narration so muddles the action as to turn it into a distraction, but it still has a very alluring flare. The dynamics between the characters are also a highlight; we are drawn into their joys and sufferings, even if we’ve seen it all before, and better. Despite the rare and obvious attempts to create character through quirks in dialogue, everyone ends up talking in the narrator’s stilted fashion. Everything about the plot, really, is a hackneyed regurgitation of films, books, and video games, and is watered down to convention – the result is muddy. The fighting mushes into one extended description of the same heroism, gore, and eleventh-hour rescues. There is no pacing of action or defined story arc in the overall structure of the novel – it is essentially an uneven alternation between similar battles and nostalgic reminiscences. Although it is translated poorly into awkward prose, The Red still has a very strong cinematic quality and is full of potential beneath its ruins. It’s an undeniably arresting read and, while Book One may not achieve the highs it aims for, it leaves us hopeful for Book Two.

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