The Rules by Tracy Darnton

The Rules by Tracy Darnton

Ok, I have discovered I have a bit of a morbid fascination with the concept of survivalists and Preppers. I’ve watched mouth agape at prepper documentaries on Netflix where the family practices shooting attackers from their shipping container house; dry runs at ‘circle the wagons’ convoy style bugging out; and where a young woman at night practices different routes and scenarios ‘running’ out of her city to her safe-houses and how to euthanise her pets; all in the case of the ‘poop’ hitting the fan (SHTF) aka a major social breakdown/disaster.

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed Neal Schusterman’s YA novel Dry, which is the speculative multiple perspective account of a drought disaster in California including neighbours and children of extreme preppers trying to cope with social meltdown as the water supply is cut off. Again a book that profoundly tormented me in that ‘car crash can’t look away’ manner.

It’s always to me been a difficult subject of sensible precautions becoming obsessional lifestyle, and indeed one questions the mental health of these people and the long term consequences on their children which is dissected and scrutinised here beautifully by Tracy Darnton. Heart in your mouth, rising anger, and pain for Amber and the person she has been moulded into by her childhood as the only child of an extreme prepper.

TW: Domestic & Child abuse, Guns, being trapped.

The Rules by Tracy Darnton

Two years ago Amber and her mother escaped her father, her mother died shortly after leaving Amber bouncing from foster care to foster care until she was dumped in a boarding school, and there’s a problem, who will take her for the Christmas break.

Social Services, thinking it’s a good thing have found her father… and so Amber has to utilise all the survivalist skills and the prepper rules he gave her but this time to escape before he arrives, to find safety before he finds her, because find her he will, and this time he will not let her go.

It’s easier to do all this if you’ve trained your whole life for it.

I really like how it’s set in the UK, most preppers books are understandably set in the USA where the trend to keep supplies in case of emergency has developed into more of an obsession and industry.

But this is more than a prepper’s guide to the apocalypse, this is a man hunt, girl on the run thriller that deserves to be made into a blockbuster film. A girl utilising the skills of her traumatic past to survive and escape the man who tormented her family.

A few years ago I read The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne an American adult novel on similar lines where a woman has to use the survivalist skills she learned growing up in the woods to escape her father dead-set on hunting her down so I was excited to see this develop in a YA setting and even more so with the UK setting.

“People who have never thought about it before are suddenly confronted with the reality of a toilet-paper shortage.”

This book is rather timely and remarkable in how it cuts to the bone on the fragile reality of our world. I don’t want to be a prepper, but certain aspects of the current world make it a certain thought to try to be sustainable where you can and have a ‘safety’ net of safe water & food for emergencies – and of course toilet paper 😉

With little digs at British Blitz spirit and Asda mobs on Black Friday this was all written before the current pandemic where the zombie hordes decimated the shelves of pasta and loo roll and it’s a little bitter pill to swallow as Amber learns and retells the realities of a SHTF scenario.

The hard truth of the ‘sensible’ factor of prepping hits home when you see reference to things like this and how mild mannered people will quickly turn to violence in hunger and desperation much as we have seen in since the beginning of 2020.

But we also see the extreme and the unhealthy side of this obsession, and indeed reflected in this years social media summed up as those who ‘serves them right’ if they aren’t prepared- almost welcoming the carnage and the glee of ‘told you so’.

I was reminded at times when Amber is speaking of her fathers prepper rants of certain doom in aforementioned Neal Schusterman’s book Dry, with social meltdown as the water supply is cut off and how different groups react to the utter anarchy that unfolds and the attitude of the prepper father to pleas for help that they should have prepped instead of laughing, for who is laughing now.

…the collective grew into more than discussing the price of canned tomatoes…They acted like a war cabinet preparing for a conflict that might never come- but they secretly wished it would.

A profound and powerful truth lurking behind as Amber pieces her past together is how her father’s failings in the modern world fuels his zeal. Failing college, failing at a ‘traditional’ provider role with a well paid job, failing as a husband through abuse and abandonment, failing as a father through bullying, abuse and brainwashing, falling out with his former local preppers group for being ‘a bit much’ and prepping is his way of ‘getting back’ at all those who called him a loser or failure, This is because as he has discovered as ‘prepper’ meetings become more popular in recent years; in the ‘new world’ post-SHTF he will be useful, a winner, someone to protect and powerful because he gave himself the tools, means and supplies to be so, which is why darkly he so desperately wants it to happen. He will be somebody, unlike all the prior somebodies who ridiculed him, much like the type of narcissistic boys spurned by their crush turn spiteful and sometimes into Incels.

As I got older, I came to see that Dad wanted something bad to happen…So he’d be proved right. The guys down the pub who laughed at him… All his paranoid fantastic would be vindicated.

It’s a frightening exploration into the consequences of both Male fragility and unchecked mental health issues.

As indeed whilst we see the struggles of Amber to process her abusive childhood to inhabit the ‘real world’ and reference to her mother’s breakdowns it is as the full horror of Ellis’ plans come to light we see that the horse has definitely bolted the sanity stable.

Utterly terrifying and intensely sad as we reveal the paranoid truth behind the curtain of showmanship & the hypnotic pull of a narcissistic personality. With echoes of cult leader self proclaimed Messianic complex figures and our knowledge of where those things go this is a sobering exploration of obsession, paranoia and unchecked mental health.

And a FABULOUS Enthralling read throughout.

The Rules by Tracy Darnton is published by Little Tiger Press

Thank you so much for my review copy. 💜

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