STARRED REVIEW
June 2020

The Down Days

By Ilze Hugo
Review by

A mysterious illness grips a country. The public health department scrambles to respond and enforce mandatory quarantines. It’s a story that could have been ripped from headlines about the coronavirus.

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A mysterious illness grips a country. The public health department scrambles to respond and enforce mandatory quarantines. It’s a story that could have been ripped from headlines about the coronavirus. But that’s where the similarities with The Down Days end—at least we should hope so, or else we’re in for a wild ride.

The Down Days is set in Sick City, a coastal African city afflicted with a deadly laughter epidemic that has turned society upside down. People have reorganized their daily lives around not getting sick and making a quick buck however they can. Although the Virus Patrol and mandatory health checks give the appearance of a government in charge, residents are increasingly suspicious. Rumors abound that the citizenry is being doped with hallucinogens, and lately, rumors carry as much weight as the truth. After all, why put your faith in science if it can’t explain—or cure—this disease?

At the center of the novel is Faith, a “dead collector” who is asked by a teen girl to find her missing baby brother. But in the twisty plot of The Down Days, the fates of a dozen characters are woven together, including some who turn out to be ghosts. The line between the living world and the afterlife has blurred, and Sick City must contend with the goings-on of the spiritual realm along with everyday existence. It’s complicated, and the reader doesn’t know any better than the characters about what’s real, what’s a hallucination, who is a ghost or who is a charlatan. Ultimately, the novel asks you to imagine an alternate reality that constantly changes shape. 

Readers who enjoy meaty speculative fiction like The Power by Naomi Alderman will find much to chew on in The Down Days, which poses extremely timely questions about faith, authority, hope and conspiracy theories.

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The Down Days

The Down Days

By Ilze Hugo
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ISBN 9781982121549

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