I decided to read Red Queen, by Australian author H.M. Brown, after reading a review of it in The AGE. The review was positive and said that the novel had won last year’s Aurealis award for best horror novel, but that is not what had me wanting to read it, it was the prospect of reading an apocalyptic novel set in Australia that raised my interest.
The novel is set after a virus has decimated the population. Two brothers, Shannon and Rohan, are hiding from the virus in a very well stocked cabin in the Australian bush. The story is told from the viewpoint of 23 year-old younger brother, whose life is dominated by his much older brother Rohan.
The brothers have electric power from a water wheel, sheep, chooks and three shipping containers full of plentiful supplies for two people. They are constantly on guard for the arrival of virus carriers and thieves, and always carry rifles. Shannon stays up at night to guard the cabin.
Their monotony of survival is wrecked when Denny, a smart, sexy woman appears. The conflict she creates between the brothers is not the cliché of a sibling rivalry fight over her: it’s more subtle, as she attempts to manipulate the brothers into getting what she wants.
The conflict between Denny and the brothers keeps the tension high throughout the novel. The fact that there is an outside world with a deadly virus that could intervene at any moment is forgotten as the reader tries to figure out what Denny is up to.
I did wonder at it winning the Aurealis for best horror novel. The only real horror element is the virus, which could easily have caused it to be labelled as science fiction, but if it was labelled just as a thriller, it could be mistaken for being a crime novel. It is possibly a hard book for the publisher to pigeon-hole.
Red Queen is one of the best thrillers I have read, due to its constant tension and polished writing. I found myself stopping to marvel at some of the author’s short quick descriptions. I also appreciated the novel’s shortness; it didn’t seem to contain any unnecessary scenes.