Book review

Contagion by Teri Terry (2017)

Book one of the Dark Matter trilogy

Callie is missing. Lost. She is Kai’s eleven year old sister. Was. And Kai is bereft without her. He feels he could and should have taken more care of her. Shay was the last person to see Callie, apart from her abductors...only Shay didn’t know that at the time:

That girl. She’s staring up at me from a paper on the floor. Long dark, almost black, hair. Blue eyes, unforgettable both from the striking colour that doesn’t seem to go with her dark hair, and the haunted look that stares at me right from the page – the same way she did that day. Not a trace of a smile.

Only a year later does Shay see the Missing poster:

We love her and want her back.

Where is Callie? She’s in the Shetland Institute, Scotland. Subject 369X:

I don’t remember coming to this place,or where I came from. There are things I know, like that my name is Callie, that I’m twelve years old, that they are scientists searching for answers that I may be able to give. When things have been very bad, I’ve held on to my name, saying Callie, Callie over and over again, inside. As if as long as I can remember my name, all the forgotten things don’t matter; at least, not so much. As long as I have a name, I am here; I am me. Even if they don’t use it.
And the other thing I know is that today, I’m going to be cured.

It isn’t what you might expect, the cure. They seal her in an airtight room and burn her to death:

...abruptly, the pain stops. The flames carry on, and I’m above myself now. I see my body and the chair. The fire must be so hot; even my bones burn. Soon they are rendered to ash along with the rest of me.
Am I dead?
I must be. Mustn’t I?

She isn’t. Well, maybe. But this isn’t a ghost story. It’s way scarier than that. This feels like it could be real. Like it could actually happen. And it is absolutely grim. Something escapes from the labs that day. They call it the Aberdeen Flu, but it isn’t flu as we know it. It’s much more dangerous. Not a virus. Not bacterial. In the affected areas ninety five percent of the population die. So they cordon off most of Scotland straight away. Mass funeral pyres. Quarantine Zones. It’s difficult to move about, assuming you’re not dead yet.

Kai is Immune. That’s lucky, probably. Shay catches it. She survives. Shay is a Survivor. You might think that’s lucky too...but rumours start to gather around Survivors. How they seem to have weird abilities that they didn’t have before. That they are somehow dangerous to the ordinary population.

Inevitably perhaps, Survivors are hunted, and if they are caught, what happens to them next rather depends on who are the hunters. There are vigilantes of course. And there is the shadowy SAR, Special Alternatives Regiment:

‘...No one quite knows what they do,or under what authority...’

Scared yet? You should be. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite so disturbing, or absorbing. Hyperstorytelling.

What can I read next?

It’s intense. It’s a trilogy. Read them in order. Don’t forget to breathe:

  • Contagion
  • Deception
  • Evolution

And if you can’t stop reading Teri Terry, you could have a look at another powerful trilogy:

  • Slated
  • Fractured
  • Shattered

Enjoy a good dystopian view of the world? Me too. I can recommend this uncomfortable time travel series by Meaghan McIsaac:

Or you could have a look at the Gone series by Michael Grant. It’s a bit crazy but strangely convincing too:

  • Gone
  • Hunger
  • Lies
  • Plague
  • Fear
  • Light

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