Chasers coverIn New York for a UN Youth Ambassadors camp, Jesse is on a subway with friends when an explosion and the subsequent fireball devastates their train and most of the people in it. They make their way above ground, only to find the city in ruins. The dead are everywhere, there is no sign of help and the other survivors have changed.

Wow, what a gripping novel Chasers is! It took me a couple of chapters to grow accustomed to Jesse’s first person voice but, once I got a little further into the book, it was extremely hard to stop reading. Now, having finished it, I’d be picking up the sequel right away if it weren’t for the fact that I have other books I’m committed to reading first.

In a lot of ways, the general storyline of Chasers is not particularly ground-breaking. It’s a fairly simple tale of post-apocalyptic survival (with added zombie-like creatures) and there isn’t a great deal that actually happens in the novel, but somehow James Phelan has managed to infuse his story with a power that goes beyond its surface appearance.

Chasers is more than the action-horror that it initially seems to be. Its strength lies in Phelan’s portrayal of the inner workings of his protagonist. The reader witnesses the changes that are wrought in Jesse by the situation he finds himself in – not so much through his own self analysis as through his interactions both with his companions and with the city around him. More than a tale of physical survival in a ravaged world, this is an exploration of the human mind and of the ways in which an individual, emotionally injured by a traumatising situation, constructs purpose and meaning in order to carry on.

Of course, Chasers is also a fast-paced novel, with plenty of suspense to keep the reader turning the pages until the mind-blowing ending. The reader is no more informed as to the circumstances leading to the destruction of New York than Jesse is, giving the book a constant feel of urgency. Chasers raises a lot of questions, few of which are answered in this, the first book in a series. Luckily, Phelan’s world and characters are interesting enough that I am more than happy to read the subsequent books in order to get some more answers.

Jesse is a sympathetic protagonist, with an authentic teen voice. He is supported by the carefully diverse characters of Dave, Mini and Anna. While it is Anna who Jesse is most enamoured of, she is possibly the least-defined of his friends. Dave is complicated and sometimes confusing, but he makes perfect sense in the end. Of the three, Mini is the most likeable. Her quiet presence adds much-needed warmth to the (necessary) bleakness of the novel.

The one thing that I struggled with while reading Chasers was the absence of quotation marks throughout most of the book. There was a reason for their exclusion, but I’m unsure as to whether the stylistic choice was clever enough to warrant the confusion it sometimes allowed.

That said, I’m willing to forgive a lot from a novel that gave me such a perfect punch to the stomach in its closing pages. It’s the ending that makes Chasers as good as it is. Once you get there, you realise just how artfully constructed the entire work is – and want to go right back to the beginning to read it all over again.

Chasers is Phelan’s first YA novel. In a growing teen market, he is definitely an author to watch.