Cruel World by Joe Hart is post-apocalyptic horror done right.
“Hidden away from the world by his famous father, Quinn Kelly strives to find meaning in his life while struggling with a deformity that has kept him from leaving the only home he has ever known. On the eve of his departure a sudden and deadly virus sweeps across the nation, killing nearly all it touches. Within days Quinn is left to fend for himself in an empty world.
But there is something still very much alive beyond the walls of his sanctuary, its malicious intent clear all too soon.
Joining forces with a young single mother and her blind son, Quinn must cross a dangerous and silent America in the search for refuge and a truth that may shatter his sanity and strip him of the last things he holds dear.”
Now, this is the stuff.
This is how a post-apocalyptic novel should be written.
I wasn’t ten pages into Joe Hart’s Cruel World before I decided I was going to love this book. Nothing about the remaining 300+ pages changed my mind.
Dripping with imagery, Cruel World succeeds, where so many would-be challengers to The Stand’s post-apocalyptic throne, fail.
Cruel World opens in New England, where disfigured Quinn Kelly struggles with a coming-of-age choice: does he remain in the safety of his home around the one’s who love and accept him, or does he become his own person and venture into the cruel world, where he will be derided for his physical appearance.
Enter a pandemic-type influenza outbreak which decimates the world’s population, leaving him frightened and alone in the only home he has ever known.
Or at least he thinks he is alone.
Unexplained sounds emanate from the woods, and something huge and terrible is glimpsed through the trees.
Walls can no longer protect him from this cruel world, and he is forced to flee with a beautiful stranger and her blind son if they are to stay alive.
Cruel World by Joe Hart is a masterclass in atmospheric tension and character development. The novel deftly melds elements of psychological horror with post-apocalyptic survival, resulting in a harrowing and yet human story that never lets up.
Quinn Kelly is an impeccably crafted protagonist. His internal struggles and fears, amplified by his disfigurement, offer a poignant and raw perspective on beauty, self-acceptance, and the cruel judgments of society. This is only intensified by the onset of the influenza pandemic which, while terrifying in its own right, serves as a magnifying glass on Quinn’s already palpable feelings of isolation.
Hart’s decision to introduce a pandemic into the narrative is brilliant. It not only raises the stakes for our hero but allows us to explore the fragility of humanity and civilization. The descriptions of an emptied world are hauntingly beautiful and desolate, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.
The eerie presence in the woods further compounds the sense of dread. It’s not just the unknown entity that’s terrifying but also the metaphor it represents – a manifestation of all of Quinn’s fears and the world’s inherent cruelty. This element of the story continually keeps the readers on their toes, making for a nail-biting experience.
The introduction of the beautiful stranger and her blind son, meanwhile, adds layers of complexity to the narrative. Their dynamics with Quinn challenge his views on trust, love, and self-worth. The trio’s journey through the decimated landscape is not only a physical journey for survival but also a spiritual quest for redemption, purpose, and belonging.
Hart’s prose is both evocative and sharp, with each sentence meticulously crafted to draw out maximum emotion. The pacing is well-measured, transitioning seamlessly between introspective moments and heart-pounding action sequences.
However, the true strength of Cruel World lies in its profound exploration of humanity. It’s not just a horror or a survival tale; it’s a deep dive into the human psyche, our innate fears, desires, and our capacity for both good and evil.
Cruel World is a mesmerizing and thought-provoking read. Joe Hart weaves a tale that is as much about the monsters within us as it is about the monsters outside. It is a compelling testament to the resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of overwhelming adversity. Highly recommended for those who enjoy their fiction with depth, heart, and a good dose of suspense.
The sense of emptiness and limitless possibilities are what I love most about good post-apocalyptic novels. Hart nails these aspects, allowing you to immerse yourself in familiar settings before unleashing the monsters. Joe Hart’s characters are rich and nuanced, performing actions which match their motivations.
Cruel World will ultimately be compared to Stephen King’s The Stand. This inevitability is faced by all authors of post-apocalyptic horror, including yours truly. Besides the pandemic outbreak, there are far more differences than similarities between Cruel World and Stephen King’s masterpiece.
I will avoid specifics so as not to spoil the story for you. But something about the monsters inhabiting the post-apocalyptic world made me think of Lost and Cloverfield. Whether or not they do the same for you, I think you will love this creative twist. You’ll never hear the word stilt without shuddering ever again.
I give Joe Hart’s Cruel World my highest recommendation. If you are fan of horror, and especially if you love post-apocalyptic adventures, this is the story for you.