Goodreads: Average: 3.71. Mode: 4 stars.
Amazon: Average: 3.9. Mode: 4 stars.
Out on the far northern border of a failed state, Makepeace patrols the ruins of a dying city and tries to keep its unruly inhabitants in check. Into this isolated world comes evidence that life is flourishing elsewhere - a refugee from the vast emptiness of forest, whose existence inspires Makepeace to take the road to connect with human society.
Everyone's writing the end of the world nowadays. In Far North, there are no zombies, bioengineered viruses, meteor strikes, or nuclear wars. (Actually, there is some hint that nuclear and/or biological weapons may have been used at some point during the collapse, but mostly it seems to be environmental catastrophe that did civilization in.)
Makepeace Hatfield is the daughter of Quaker separatists who settled in Siberia just before everything collapsed. The communities of the far north are overrun by refugees fleeing war and catastrophe to the south, leading to a series of events that aren't fully revealed until the end of the story. When the novel opens, Makepeace is a sheriff without a population to police: the town where she grew up, Evangeline, is all but empty.
She's actually on the verge of committing suicide when she sees a plane. Suddenly she has a new purpose in life, and she sets off to find where it came from, on a journey that will take years.
This isn't a fast-paced novel, though things do move along fairly steadily. There are, however, long periods of time within the story in which Makepeace doesn't do much. I liked Theroux's description of the far north, and he gives just enough detail about what happened to make this apocalypse believable. But it's Makepeace's voice that carries the novel. She's tough, she's a survivor, she's capable of shooting people when people need to be shot... but she's not particularly bad-ass, and she's acutely aware of this. She survives mostly by not being stupid, and even that isn't always enough.
Verdict: A literary post-apocalyptic novel that works. It's not a thrill ride and the sci-fi elements are pretty minimal, but Makepeace is a believable character and the epic wilderness journey in a post-apocalyptic setting is believable, and this book is about thirty-seven times more interesting and enjoyable than Cormac McCarthy's empty ashen corpse-fest. So check it out if you'd like an adult alternative to YA zombie/alien/meteor armageddons.