Apocalyptic scenarios are not my favourite thing. To be frank, a pandemic world-wide threat from a mutant viruses wasn't making me feel a desperate urge to read RED QUEEN. I've been shuffling other books over it in the priority queue for quite a while. But eventually, you've just got to stop sooking about these things and get on with reading.
There was some confusion in my mind about exactly what "category" this novel falls into. It won an Aurealis award for Best Horror Novel, but I'd heard comments that indicated that the book, despite the apocalyptic setting, was more of a thriller. To my uneducated mind, there didn't seem a lot of horror about RED QUEEN, but it certainly fits the thriller criteria. Set in the Australian bush, brothers Shannon and Rohan are hiding out from the effects of the virus, holed up in the ultimate survivalist paradise, set up originally by their parents, both of whom have died from the very virus the brothers are trying to avoid. They stay constantly on guard, despite which, their defences are breeched by a smart young woman who initially steals food from the cabin during the night, eventually revealing herself and asking for their help and shelter.
Once Denny arrives on the scene it's hard to avoid a sense of inevitability about the relationships. Shannon is the more sensitive, gentle brother - and he takes on the "good cop" role very quickly. Rohan is more mistrusting, taking the "bad cop" role with aplomb, right down to being the brother that Denny turns to for sexual gratification. What saves that entire scenario is the clever and subtle way that the conflict between the brothers is handled. The sexual rivalry fits into a general feeling of distrust, tension and rivalry as rules of the house are stretched, and the ever present threat from the outside world hangs heavily over all three characters. There is also the increasing pressure of if, and how, they can remain self-sufficient with every day that passes.
There is something very atmospheric about RED QUEEN, and the writing is clever. Whilst it's very descriptive, and extremely evocative it's also elegant, pared down, and without padding. Still, you can feel the tension in the air, see the glowering looks and the sideways glances. The bush and environs of the cabin come to life, even the weather feels real and very immediate. RED QUEEN is assured storytelling, clever and extremely surprising. Especially as it kept this reader involved despite some predictable plot lines, overt characterisations and the sort of happy-ever-after ending that always leaves me feeling decidedly queasy.