All Souls Day provides the reader with an alternate history: what if the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated into war? What if the nuclear holocaust that followed laid waste to much of what we know, except for one small town in Pennsylvania that was protected by the power of the ancient demon, Moloch? In exchange for its protection, which shelters the townspeople from the burnt and irradiated outside world, the demon demands a virgin sacrifice each year, on the anniversary of the war, November 2nd, which gives this book its title.
This set up paves our introduction to the two main characters. Suzie, who is a ‘nice girl’ and cheerleader at Chatham High, and Amos, a ‘nerd’ who secretly has fallen for Suzie. This is their senior year, over twenty years since Moloch took over and the sacrifices began. As a nice girl, Suzie has the chance to be chosen on the night of her Senior Prom as the next virgin Moloch takes, while all Amos wants to do is moon over a girl he can never have. Despite their differences, the two make a connection and along with some of their friends and some other members of their community, will try and stop the cycle of sacrifice and demon worship that has cursed their suburban paradise for far too many years.
The story is certainly creative, with a town somewhat frozen in time. It is the mid-eighties when it takes place, but without any technological advancements, the town is reliant on horse-drawn carriages, farming, and slave labor from outside the wall Moloch has put up. Muties, or mutants, are brought in by the small army Chatham’s Forge has formed, when they go out into the wastelands. The high school, and the town by extension, has crafted a caste system, where you are assigned a rank once you enter high school. So ‘nice girls’ are allowed to date ‘jocks’ but never ‘nerds’. There are also ‘jesters’, ‘punks’, and ‘sluts’. And instead of a traditional bible-belting preacher spreading the word of God, everyone worships Moloch. The demon protects the town through his human servant, Pastor Justin, who exacts punishment on the faithless and disloyal. The parallels between religious zealots of our day, whose devotion to their god goes as far as to sacrifice and kill for that deity, and these Moloch worshipers, are pretty straight forward.
Told in first person, the story switches between Suzie and Amos through most of the story, with later additions coming from their friends and other townsfolk introduced throughout the book. Some of the timelines are a bit out of whack, especially in the final pages of the tale, but they all come together in the end. The story runs through Suzie and Amos’s senior year and the months that follow their prom up to All Soul’s Day in November.
The story was very creative and extremely fresh. If I have to point out a gripe, it had to do with Amos’s character, who does gain a bit of redemption here and there for being picked on as a nerd, but struck me as an incessant whiner and despite some of his actions, a major wimp. The caste system created by the community exaggerates the stereotypes most of us experience in high school. So despite the fact that Amos doesn’t need glasses to see, he is required to wear prototypical nerd glasses and the predictable nerd attire. The abuse heaped upon him is almost ritualistic and both his fellow students and teachers participate in the fun. The author has done a great job of fleshing out the caste system and having virtually everyone who never experienced the world prior to the Nuclear War that started the reign of Moloch accept their caste almost without question. Still, as much as I can appreciate Suzie’s determination to revolt both in mind and body against being a nice girl and the horrors that Chatham’s Forge has to offer, Amos perpetuates his stereotype and yet still stumbles into almost everything good that happens to him despite his cowardice and incompetence. If they had an ‘emo’ caste, he would be its leader. Still, you can’t help yourself in rooting for him, Suzie, and their friends whose desire is to either escape, or annihilate their little slice of hell on earth.
All Soul’s Day is the first book in The Days of Ascension series by the author, and while we aren’t quite left with a cliffhanger, it comes pretty close. The author has created an intriguing world and it should be interesting to see what is out beyond the borders of Chatham’s Forge.