Mad World (Mad World, #1), Laura Lascarso
Rating: 4 Stars
Publisher: Self Published
Tags: YA/NA Dystopian/Survivalist Story, Gay Romance, Characters of All Abilities, Diverse Ensemble and MCs
Length: 260 Pages
Purchase At: amazon
It’s a mad, mad world, Kitten, but I’ll do whatever I can to keep you safe.
It’s been seven years since a rabies-like virus decimated the human population. Those who haven’t turned Rabid from the fever are struggling to survive. When Cipher, leader of his band of misfits, encounters a young man digging in his garden in a sunny suburb of South Carolina, he doesn’t know what to make of him. Alone and with all of his limbs intact, the teen seems to be thriving and yet, there is the matter of the Rabid-like groans emanating from the second-story window.
Joshua doesn’t trust this rag-tag gang of youth who’ve infiltrated his home and nicknamed him “Kitten.” He certainly doesn’t trust the clever, black-eyed killer who’s good with a blade, but he’s tired of waiting for his brother to return home, and he’d rather join this band of scavengers than be left all alone. He’ll journey with them to Atlanta and figure out his next moves from there.
Cipher’s first priority is to protect his found family, which now includes this vexing young man who challenges his authority at every turn. How will he maintain order among his tribe? More importantly, how will he guard his heart?
MAD WORLD is a zombie-esque, gentle dystopian for those who crave survivalist stories with a dollop of angst and dash of spice. This new adult MM romance is the first book of a trilogy which will follow the same couple until they reach their hard-won happy ending.
I rarely, rarely read YA/NA books anymore. I don’t especially like zombie books or movies either, I’ve read and watched a few of them over the years but they’re not really my thing. However, Laura Lascarso is a fine writer and I couldn’t find anything new I actually wanted to read so I thought, “why not?” I’ll admit I liked the cover and the title. It shares its name with one of the finest songs ever written, and wonderfully rerecorded by so many artists since Tears for Fears first recorded it. I’m really glad I decided to read Mad World because it worked for me on several levels and I’m keenly awaiting the next book in this trilogy.
The MCs are Cipher and Joshua, we do learn Cipher’s real name right near the end of this book when he lets his guard down around Joshua, who is labelled “Kitten” from the get-go. All of the group have new names to signify a new start. Joshua may as well join in. It doesn’t matter their real names anyway, I can’t think of either of our MCs as anything but Cipher and Kitten.
Cipher is stealthy. He kills. He’s good at taking out Rabids or bands of raiders, the former being Zombies, the latter being humans that pillage and plunder. He’s been doing it for a while. Well before coming across Kitten. Both Rabids and raiders will kill you for different reasons in this dystopian world.
Then there’s Artemis who really is the mother hen and the cool head of the group. She’s good with a bow and arrow and keeping mum around things that are not hers to tell.
Macon is a strapping packhorse of a guy who is one of the primary protectors of the group, along with Cipher.
If I was the reaper, then Macon was the undertaker, mainly because he was the only one of us strong enough to haul the corpses. It was a community service we provided, burning the dead bodies of Rabids. It killed the virus and prevented scavenging animals from feasting on their tainted flesh and spreading the disease. We all had to do our part.
Gizmo is good with all things tech and mechanical. He modified his own artificial hand, as well as Cipher’s and Artemis’s limbs.
Teresa looks after camp and morale. She’s the youngest, in all ways, and has a story that doesn’t get told but you know it’s very bad. She loves dollies, stuffed toys and anything sweet.
When they first stumble across “Kitten” he’s tending the garden in his outskirts South Carolina family home like nothing has happened. Like the world hasn’t been turned upside down by a virus that mutates. Where those bitten become Rabids. Where families and communities having been torn apart. His older brother has gone to Atlanta to get medicine for their sick mother, leaving his younger brother in charge, but Santiago has been gone for ages. All of the ensemble have similar stories. Kitten’s family really was loving, close, pretty much the Cunningham’s type of home. When Cipher comes into contact with Kitten, everything changes in big ways.
Long story short, while Kitten is upset and not thrilled about it initially, he becomes part of the collective and makes this a group of six. They vote democratically to allow Kitten to bring his beloved cat, Little Miss Purrfect, with them. He calls them the Assholes because of his mother’s death, because Cipher seems so unfeeling, and that’s the name they unofficially start to call their group. They’re heading to Atlanta where Macon has some intel that suggests people there can tell him where Promised Land is – a place rumoured to have law and order, something this new world lacks, that Rabids are kept out, and people can live a good life. The few big cities are semi-lawless, people hustle, and there’s a big brother element to them at the same time, so staying in Atlanta isn’t ever going to be an option for them.
Along the way there are encounters with both raiders and Rabids. While not heavy on action it still occurs, it’s enough to keep you hoping no one gets killed, but the overall feel is certainly lighter than other dystopian novels I’ve read. I wasn’t looking for the darkest of the dark right now and this suited my current mood. However, there are still dark elements and these kids have a lot to contend with.
Three more attacked from behind and Cipher swiveled like a bullfighter and launched himself at the nearest one, driving his machete upward and slicing the Rabid in one brutal stroke. Their guts spilled out onto the ground, polluting the sweet summer air with the stink of blood, urine, and feces.
This was a good book to begin a trilogy with. It starts interestingly but slows a little, then it picks up again as you get a feel for the characters. The author allows enough about each character to give you a connection without giving too much too soon. The world building is solid. The book ends in a comfortable place but with clearly more to come. Promised Land seems like a good place. But is it really? Anyone who is called Brother at what is effectively a compound makes me nervous. I mean, the moniker Promised Land freaks me the hell out. While Kitten does find out where his brother is, it’s unsettling.
What stood out:
The dual POV. It was absolutely necessary to have both MCs perspective. Without Cipher’s it would have made it tough to get close to him for the reader. Both voices progress the story, they always pick up from where the other left off and they move you forward. I like my dual POV written this way.
Kitten is a very innocent in worldly ways, he is also a virgin. He categorically feels younger than seventeen turning eighteen. He’s purposely written that way as his world came down around him when he was approximately ten. Minimal school. No moving around freely as the virus took hold. Friends would disappear/die. His parents protected him until they couldn’t. He’s a true plague kid. I thought Kitten was well written. He felt realistic for the events and times. I also liked that he ever hopefully pursued Cipher in numerous ways as Cipher played distant tough guy whilst also knowing Kitten was the shiniest star in the sky, that he would do anything to protect him, be near him, never hurt him. There’s some flirty, sexy scenes between them both without being overkill.
Cipher was what he was meant to be, a protective force of nature that came into Kitten’s life in a serendipitous moment in time. He has had to do things, witness things young guys his age – nineteen turning twenty – ordinarily wouldn’t have had to and it’s affected him. Where Kitten seems young, Cipher seems older. Kitten is like a bright, soft, gentle (sexy) thing that Cipher felt was long gone or would never exist for him in this life.
The kid had a beautiful smile—open, trusting, joyous. It was a little thing, a smile, but I knew for certain that smile was going to break me. Those expressive amber eyes would break me. His bratty sass and clueless questions and sweet, unexpected gestures, all of those would break me.
And if anyone tried to dim the light in his eyes, I would absolutely break them.
The rest of the characters are strong as secondaries, giving enough to make you feel like you know them, if just a little, and they don’t detract from Cipher and Kitten’s romance arc. However, Macon is especially noticeable when he’s on page.
I think this is a great gay and diverse YA/NA story that would be terrific for teenagers to read, obviously it depends on the child themselves. Gay teens who want to see themselves in books can do that reading Mad World. Kids/ people of all abilities. We need more books like this. I know there are some good books out, and some have even made it as movies, but there are conservative voices trying to drown out LGBTQ+ people, drown out diversity. Mad World is just one more bit we take back from the moral panic real life Rabids. Good on Laura Lascarso for writing this trilogy. Especially at this time.
Overall the writing is Laura Lascarso strong. Well edited. Delightful to read. It’s nicely thought out. The characters interesting. It may be kind in terms of a zombie story, but it also has deeper layers. A strong start to a dystopian or alt-reality world with a beating heart, as well as fantasy/escapist qualities that never ever go astray when reading fiction. 4 Stars!