Everybody who follows Michael Bunker on his different social media is probably aware that he tends to be a bit on the oversharing side. The Last Pilgrims is - in parts - no exception. At times I wanted to shake Michael Bunker (which would be ridiculous with me being a mere 5´4´´) and yell at him, tone it down, I get it, I really do.
The Vallenses are simple, plain people living a peaceful life, or at least try to do so, surrounded by enemies where ever they go. Kingdoms of different sorts have established themselves, but as it is, the Vallenses are in the middle of those self-proclaimed empires. Hence they are persecuted for simply being there. Not wanting to fight, not even when it comes to defending themselves complicate matters obviously since they are basically free to be slaughtered without resistance. Being a non-violent person is no easy task, and I say this without disrespect.
Where it gets tricky is that those kingdoms are very much tailored after Medieval European kingdoms, which seems to be an odd choice since the story is set on US-American soil, and plenty a references are made to it. I rolled with it, though, being it a fiction book, otherwise it would invalidate the whole story right from the start. Still, I was not fully convinced that it would happen that way, that different societies renew themselves like that. Lunatic wanna-be kings alright, whole kingdoms only 20 years after everything gone straight to hell, not so much. But let´s leave this aside for a moment.
Philip, nicknamed the Ghost, is the leader of the resistance militia against the Aztlani kingdom, and safeguarding the Vallenses, based on a decades long friendship to Jonathan Wall, the pastor and one of the elders of the Vallenses. Mismatched as those two friends may be, since they are on the opposite side of things when it comes to violence, they have more in common that one might think at first.
There are constant twists and turns, but those are mercifully an extension of the narrative in a natural, often unexpected way that makes the story exciting, even not always easy to keep track. Fooling myself about the characters often I felt not being stringed along, but taken by the hand, taught about them, not shouted down at about their motives, or if it happened, their reason for treachery.
The Last Pilgrims might even work as a survival guide in case the Apocalypse is coming, and as it very well may be, this could be sooner the case than later. There are many a pages where living plain and off-grid is used within the story to explain how a life after a crash of some sorts may work. While I´m myself a city girl by upbringing and heart, I´m not without sympathies to live a life with more substance than any artifical gadgets may bring. It is a mere question of character and values, and whatever moral compass one has. Questions one needs to ask themselves when reading the book, as many of the Vallenses do. Where do they stand? Is it right to defend themselves after all, and join the milita against their enemies? One big part of the story is about following their conscience, which may be a dilemma if faced with real-world consequences. What the heart decides and what one does may easily be a matter of survival.
Where it gets most interesting is that The Last Pilgrims is told in a matter-of-factly way lacking any kind of crazy conspiracy theories or paranoia of some sorts, which I honestly expected. It would be easy to put blame for the collapse of the known society to governments or some Iluminati, but nothing of that kind is happening here. The world simply is. However, it is apparent that the collapse happened due being too dependend on technologies that run their own course or economical problems in the world, even those roots are merely hinted at, never fully explained.
Action-packed with many a battle scenes, military warfare tactics the body count is extremely high - friends and foes alike - , but alas, the violence is done - do I dare say? - tastefully. Nothing that made me cringe in any way, which I appreciated. It is not a "nice" book, though, but the action is used to bring the narrative forward, not for a cheap thrill. The focus however is far more on the characters, how they interact with eachother, how they survive a world which is bleak and cruel to them. Insofar it very much reminded me of some Russian classics; their stoicism, their pessimism and bleak outlook included.
The letter Jonathan Wall wrote to the King of the South States asking for help seems ill-matched as an epilogue. While it certainly enriches the story it seems too much of a mouthpiece of the author himself, where once again he includes his own personal believes, religious and (non-) political, into the narrative. However, Michael Bunker, is the only author I can personally stand to do it, since I already look favorable upon it, and he is indeed a gifted, and very capable writer, in my humble opinion. One certainly recognizes a Michael Bunker book on first glance. His narrative voice is not only unique, but he brings a deep knowledge and understanding of human nature into his writing, plus an exceptionally very own view of the world. Christian-agrarianism aside, Michael Bunker is obviously extremely well read and educated, and philosophical ponderings or references to Russian classics ala Lew Tolstoy seems to be a must in his books. Always a plus for me. One can actually feel the charisma on the pages, and the confidence with which he is telling his stories.
The Last Pilgrims is a combination of people sharing a true belief in God while living, if they want to or not, cut off from everything that made our industrial society. The tag line, twenty years in the future is five-hundred years in the past, is true to its words, and very explanatory.
Reading up abit on the backstory of The Last Pilgrims, I know now it is basically a modernized version, a retelling of the religious Waldenses groups, and the similar name is most likely not a coincidence, who were massacred for their religious believes throughout the centuries. While I don´t really know much, if anything, about them, it is easy to see where the connection is made, or which part of The Last Pilgrims, are more of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic story.
The fate of the Vallenses is unresolved at the end of The Last Pilgrims, to say the least. To be continued with Cold Harbor (announced for a bit but probably not coming before 2016?), which, judging from the title and the hints at the end of The Last Pilgrims don´t promise a fairy tale exactly either.