The Kindly Ones is a disturbing and gripping dystopian novel set in a post apocalypse time with the backdrop of the breakdown of social, ecological and economic order. Groups of people survive in the margins deep in the forest, they hope beyond the reach of marauding gangs.
The novel has some themes similar to those found in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the Year of the Flood/MaddAdam, but brings out more graphically the danger of the self-righteous fundamentalist people who think the end of the world has arrived and that they are the chosen survivors; so any unbelievers they find are their enemies.
Social breakdown has hardened their beliefs to the point that they seek to control and bully those who are not saved, and behave with misogynistic and psychopathic violence towards them. This violence and control also apply to the way they treat each other. In this way far from being the good and the saved they believe themselves to be, they are actually the evil ones.
The fundamentalists have been thrown together with a group of “kindly ones” but whom they call “unbelievers” and the novel is about how the kindly ones, who tend to assume good of everyone, gradually realise the danger they are in.
The tension builds as the reader understands this ahead of the kindly ones who have to learn the hard way.
To add to the mix there is a paedophile priest with a crucifixion fetish who aligns with the fundamentalists, and abuses a teenage fundamentalist boy he has managed to get access to. One beautiful relationship in the book is in fact a gay one between this boy and another boy from the unbeliever camp.
The book is stronger on plot than on character, which makes for excitement and surprise, but characters are built up too in an interesting way. The kindly ones are better developed than the brutish fundamentalists.
While other more moderate religions are available, for the liberally minded the book shows how we should be more worried by the dangers posed by extremist religion and helps us explore those dynamics.
We must learn to read the signs before we are engulfed. I do not recommend reading the book last thing at night however as it can cause sleeplessness and nightmares. Having said that I found the book compelling and it ends on a note which leaves open a sequel.