The Fearing: Book 3 - Air & Dust by John F.D. Taff

The Fearing Book Three Air and Dust_John FD Taff.jpg

Publisher: Grey Matter Press | Release Date: Oct. 1, 2019 | Pages: 113

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The biggest problem with reviewing each installment of a serialized novel as good as John F.D. Taff’s The Fearing is that you risk running out of superlatives pretty early on. Air & Dust is the penultimate chapter in Taff’s post-apocalyptic epic and having already heaped praise aplenty on the prior installments, what’s left to say now that we’re three-quarters through this story and moving into the endgame? (Unless Taff really drops the ball in the fourth and final book, that is, in which case I’m certain to have a few choice words…)

If you’ve been reading these books as they release, then you’ve already gotten the gist of what Taff is up to here and are familiar with the characters. If you haven’t been reading The Fearing, then you’ve been seriously missing out and need to correct this tragic oversight immediately and get caught up before November’s grand finale comes out. Really, what the hell have you even been doing?

Air & Dust allows the readers a small bit of breathing room as Taff deepens the relationship between Reverend Mark and the mysterious amnesiac, Monday, two new characters introduced in the last installment who promise to be vitally important as we reach The Fearing’s climax next month. Mark and Monday find shelter at a deserted military base dubbed Camp Straggalot by the other survivors that have come to call the base home but, as they quickly learn, there is little safety to be found in numbers.

In most post-apocalyptic narratives, people banding together would ensure a certain amount of security, a sort of social safety net from which they can strike back at evil and begin rebuilding America. However, in Taff’s world, more people tends to mean more danger. In an apocalypse built around the foundational fears of humanity itself and the individual phobias of each survivor, each person is a potential existential threat to those around them, as well as themselves, as their fears manifest into violent reality to wreak havoc and destroy everything and everyone around them. If you’re terrified of being attacked by rabid dogs or a roving band of cannibals, then maybe being in the middle of a sparsely populated safe haven isn’t such a great idea after all. This is further compounded by the introduction of a new threat, in the form of an authoritarian soldier who, like all narcissistic dictatorial wannabes, promises he’s the only one who can save the country (gee, where have we heard that one before? Hmmm…).

Book Three is all about arranging the various chess pieces that is Taff’s bands of survivors and those who seek to undermine them. While much of Air & Dust is devoted to getting to know Mark and Monday, we do get some brief glimpses of teenage heroes, now accompanying Rich’s busload of survivors as they make their way toward Memphis. Adrian and Jelnik, too, are on the road to what appears to be their final destination. Much of this book, in fact, is all about people getting to where they need to be for the grand finale in Book Four. It’s all set up for the climax to come, but it’s no less engaging and compulsively readable than the two entries that came before, and there’s some neat little action sequences as Straggalot’s resident’s find new things to fear and worry about.

While Air & Dust gives us some answers to various questions, like how and why this particular (and strikingly original) apocalypse began in the first place, it also leaves us with a few questions. Not the least of these, of course, is how in the hell is Taff going to conclude this book in a novella as slim as the installments we’ve received thus far? If Book Four keeps on track with the page count of its preceding books, it boggles the mind how we could possibly get a satisfying conclusion in only a hundred pages. It seems like there’s still a lot left to do, in terms of both plot, characters, and conflicts, that I can’t help but wonder if we’re not due for some kind of curve ball with book four, in terms of either a much larger page count than we’ve gotten thus far, or perhaps an announcement of a second serial to follow. Obviously we’ll find out for sure soon enough, but part of the fun with this serialized story is staying on our toes, wondering what comes next. It’s clear, too, that Taff and Grey Matter Press have had a lot of fun toying with us readers and our expectations, gleefully stringing us along in what might be the greatest example yet of publishing’s sadomasochistic relationship with an audience. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed every single bit of it, though. And now that I’ve finished Air & Dust, it’s back to jonesing for the next fix, waiting for Book Four and all of whatever it entails. Waiting, waiting, waiting…