One of Us by Craig DiLouie is a book that fucking ruined me emotionally. And it’s very near to the top of my favorite books I’ve read in 2019. I found DiLouie’s voice to be bittersweet, brutal, and fearless. I expected more of the same in Our War, his newest novel, a speculative “what if?” about a second American Civil War, set in modern times.
And goddamn…this book. Oof. This is something so timely, so raw, and so incredibly powerful. The near-future that DiLouie imagines is all too believable, and completely haunting.
While this story is complex in many ways, it simply boils down to the left v. the right. The government breaks down. The president is voted out of office but refuses to leave (something many people fear will happen with Trump). Chaos ensues. Militias pop up all over the country, on both sides of the political spectrum. Basically, everything goes to shit, very quickly. It’s this sort of not-quite-dystopian feeling…the country moves on, but in a limited capacity. Some cities only have electricity for a few hours a day. Many businesses & homes are destroyed. There’s killing in the streets, and safety is a rare commodity.
Hannah Miller is just ten years old when “the troubles” begin. She’s tragically separated from her family, including her fifteen-year-old brother Alex. Hannah finds refuge in the Free Women militia, whereas her brother Alex has taken up with a right wing militia called The Liberty Tree.
And so there it is…brother & sister, on opposite sides of a hellish & bloody civil war.
There’s a few other POVs in addition to Hannah’s & Alex’s. Aubrey is an idealistic UNICEF representative from Canada, sent to America to speak for the children affected by the war. She finds things are much worse than she could ever have anticipated. Gabrielle is a gritty reporter who gets tasked with showing Aubrey around Indianapolis, where most of the book takes place. The two of them play really well off one another & form a slightly reluctant bond over the course of the book.
Our War asks more questions than it answers, and one thing this book captures so well is the idea that…some of these people on either side of the war aren’t even there for any reason other than they wanted to feel like they belonged somewhere. Anywhere. Which is fucking terrifying. Especially in the case of Alex, as we watch him get slowly radicalized by this group he’s joined. He needed a place to go, and they welcomed him with open arms and an AK-47.
Hannah’s story is almost unbearably tragic. What she’s put through over the course of this book is more than any human being could be expected to withstand, let alone a ten-year-old. She’s a captivating character who feels everything deeply & manages to trust people even as her entire world is falling apart before her eyes. I just loved her so much.
Again, this book could not be more timely. It’s very clear that DiLouie was inspired by what’s happening in American politics right now. Seeing words like “libs” and “cuck” in this book was like going down into the cesspool of comments on a Twitter post about Star Wars or something. And no two ways about it, this is a war novel. In this version of the near-future, modern medicine (along with many other industries) has taken a severe hit, so the casualties are often treated with not much more sophistication than they would’ve been in the first American Civil War. So it’s…disgusting at times.
Although I’ve only read two of his novels, I’m genuinely in awe of Craig DiLouie. He’s someone who can take a very simple idea, and spin it into something utterly original & darkly imaginative. Our War doesn’t just function as entertainment. It’s deeply moving, and it’s the kind of book that just feels so fucking important. Living through this actual part of American history, and reading Craig DiLouie’s nightmare-fuel story about things getting exponentially worse…it’s upsetting. And it’s supposed to be. It’s the kind of book where you need to stop & take breaks, because it’s just so much to absorb.
Our War is a book that I just can’t recommend enough. It’s about love & hate & hope & despair. It’s like some fucked-up funhouse mirror version of America…but a version that is entirely too plausible at this point. This book is gorgeous, haunting, and it feels like an absolutely vital work of fiction right now.
I’d be absolutely remiss to not mention the cover of this book, designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio. I honestly think it’s one of the most striking covers I’ve ever seen from Orbit, and that’s saying a lot!
Massive thank you to Orbit for sending me a copy!