Of Plagues and Hope

Author: Ronald Malfi

In a world filled with madness and death, the only hope left is a child. But it’s his child, and the price for hope is high. He’d rather see the whole world burn than risk his daughter, and so they’re on the run. But the clock is ticking, safety is a concept of the past, and the fever is burning brightly behind his eyes.

The Night Parade is another contemplative horror novel from Roland Malfi. This time, we’re situated in the apocalypse. A strange plague first wiped out the birds, and now is taking the people, one at a time, dying of exsanguination and delusion. Meanwhile, in a world without birds, the insects are returning, are claiming everything, turning the skies into a frenzy of buzzing, pulsing bodies and covering the ground with shimmering, hard carapaces. It’s a new world, and not a kind one. But David Arlen only has one thing left to protect: his daughter. He’s willing to do anything to keep her safe from the scientists who killed her mother and who want to experiment on her. But young Ellie – she sees things differently. As father and daughter make a desperate dash across the US, stealing cars and running into the broken remnants of humanity, Ellie opens a conversation about right and wrong, about moral responsibility, about hope and sacrifice.

The Night Parade is not at all what I was expecting, but it is classic Malfi all the way. The idea and the atmosphere are eerie and altogether too hauntingly believable. We have glimpses, here and there, of the early days of Covid, of the rumors of overflowing hospitals and bodies stacked on the street. Here, though, it goes all the way, with red Xs painted on plague houses and Wanderer’s Folly – the disease – leaving its victims stumbling in a haze of delusions and nightmares. It’s terrifying and vivid, but not the penultimate power of this piece. That power is in the characters, in the relationships, and in the idea. What would you do? Save your daughter, or save the world? Where does family end and a duty to humanity begin, and could you, as a parent, even care where that line lay, even afford to risk losing the last person, the last glimmer of goodness in a dying world?

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

The story is strong, with multiple levels of relationship. As David crosses the United States, we see what is left and meet with various groups of survivors, some feral, others dangerous in a new way. We see the good and the evil and the weird in-between of hopeless people trying to survive. We see loss and love, and everything in between. And we see a little girl become a woman in the apocalypse and push for a calling no one could possibly want.

We also see Ellie’s gift growing, because in this weird hellscape, there might be a strange new beginning in store. It’s up to us how to see the poignant ending – one of hope or of final desolation. It’s a story that comes full circle, yet one that also leaves us thinking, leaving the ending and the possibilities open based on our own perceptions. Does the world end with a fizzle, with a bang? Is there hope left, a new start out of the ashes, or does the Phoenix finally burn once and for all? Read this stunning, alternatingly sad and beautiful novel to find out. I guarantee that you’ll never look at a nest of eggs the same way again or the outline of a bird against a blue summer sky in quite the same way again.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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