Another Goodreads suggestion was spot on for me- as this gritty dystopian tale had a timely political message that spoke to me.
The premise of the story: Set in the near future, a corrupt dictator has been voted in as president, which plunges America into the Second Civil War. Afterwards Kentucky refuses to rejoin the nation, leaving them a demilitarized zone and caught in the cross-hairs of the fascist leader who will do anything to bring these rebels into line. In the midst of this, mechanic and former soldier Kade Mercer reluctantly becomes Kentucky’s de facto leader as he leads his townspeople into the woods to escape from a military attack. Mystery surrounds his silent young son, who is kidnapped and held as ransom by the army, and in regards to the “blueboys” who live hidden in the mountains.
There are some interesting threads running throughout the narrative that were intriguing. Drug addiction is a very real problem in parts of Appalachia today, and author Phillip Kennedy Johnson incorporates drug addiction into the story as physically manifesting in people, turning them blue and zombie like. Political extremism and hero worship tie into President Roth’s portrayal, with uncomfortable parallels to our current president. There is also a religious aspect, as those following Kade have tied him to being “The Messenger” as foretold by the Prophet Luther. Both sides fanaticism doesn’t bode well for a meeting in the middle.
I was unfamiliar with author Johnson’s prior work, so I looked him up and found out that he is a musician in the Army. This explains his familiarity with the armed forces and their inner workings, plus the beautiful folk-like songs that begin each chapter. I was captivated by these songs and sang each aloud, reminding me of my mother’s family from Indiana and Kentucky. On a personal aside- I have retained a bit of my family’s Appalachian/southern vernacular, as I say crawdad instead of crayfish or crawfish, soda instead of pop, and I pronounce the diphthong /aɪ/ as ä making words like tired sound like tarred. I tease my kids by saying I swan instead of I swear, as my Grandmother used to. All of these little connections made me appreciate this story even more, as I imagined some of my family as these rebels.
Another huge reason as to why I enjoyed this tale was the art. Massimo Carnevale, who did all the cover art for Northlanders, drew this cover. He is a master of picking up the theme of the story and representing it in a way that is sure to grab your attention. I recently loved Bone Parish, so I was pleased to find artist Jonas Scharf as the main artist of this graphic novel too. Scharf captures the look of Appalachia and it’s inhabitants, while also realistically rendering the military scenes. Colorist Doug Garbark also adds to the mood by using a muted color palette to show the weariness of the people during the brutal occupation.
An afterword by the author gives some insight to the story, and perhaps should have been at the beginning to give some clarification to some of the threads I mentioned earlier that were at times confusing. I have not seen a continuation of this story, which is a shame, for I got sucked into this plausible world, and would like to see Kade and the other Kentuckians fight for freedom. This is too important a story to let go of and I hope Johnson and Boom Studios will be able to continue this series.