This article was originally published in Issue 19.
The Premise: The best-selling John Matherson series began with 2011’s One Second After, a realistic portrayal of life after an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon sends the United States into a new Dark Age. In the series’ third installment, The Final Day, a messenger is sent to find John; however, his perilous journey proves too much, and he only manages to get a partial and cryptic message to Forrest’s settlement. The remaining citizens of Black Mountain, North Carolina, are finally starting to make progress rebuilding after “The Day,” but a new threat looms.
The 411: The Final Day was written by William R. Forstchen, an American historian and novelist. If you have some back issues of Boys’ Life from the late ’70s you read some of his earliest work. His writing in the John Matherson series exemplifies his expertise, with multiple references to important historical events that parallel or give further insight into the story. One Second After was even cited in Congress as a realistic depiction of the possible aftermath of an EMP attack on the continental USA.
The Verdict: Unfortunately, a lot of post-apocalyptic books tend to focus on two things: a corrupt government and EMPs. This series doesn’t deviate from this paradigm, but manages to keep itself from feeling tired or overdone thanks to believable storytelling.
The protagonists do suffer, get hurt, and don’t have all the answers. Characters are fleshed out and aren’t one-dimensional.
The people of Black Mountain and the surrounding area try to regain some of what was lost, such as power, communication, and a sustainable source of food. It’s interesting to see how the town has formed its own working militia based out of Montreat College. These battle-hardened shells of what were once kids are now the town’s first line of defense against enemies both foreign and domestic. There’s a bit too much civil-war talk, but still, it adds to the story.
Will John use their precious fuel reserves acquired from Fredericks Army of National Recovery in One Year After to see if what the messenger said was true? Is John’s old friend and former commanding officer, General Bob Scales, still alive? Or will they hunker down to prepare for something that could be far worse?
The series as a whole covers important topics that any survivalist can learn from, such as how to enforce law, priorities to focus on, the importance of hygiene, and the need for a strong community. The occasional bits of news the survivors receive about the condition of states like Florida being all but wiped out help build the tension. Real issues like the process of rebuilding are a key point.
The plot in The Final Day wasn’t as strong as the first two novels, but still kept us wanting more. After all, it’s pretty hard to compare any sequel to what some consider one of the best most accurate portrayals of life following a world-changing EMP event.
Novel & Author
The Final Day
by William R. Forstchen
$26 (hardcover), $13 (ebook)