The Dirt Eaters
The Longlight Legacy, book 1
by Dennis Foon
For seventy-five years after the Abomination, the people of Longlight lived in peace, separate from the world, until a brutal attack by raiders wiped out the entire village. Fifteen-year-old Roan has lost everything and everyone: his parents killed, his sister taken by the raiders. When a huge man named Saint discovers him in the desolate village, Saint takes Roan in and offers him sanctuary. Saint is the leader and prophet of of the Friend, a religious sect that lives a monk-like existence. With the Friend, Roan does things to survive that he never thought he would do. He has to eat meat, although he was raised to believe that eating the flesh of animals is wrong. He must learn to fight, although he was raised in a village which rejected fighting. But worst of all is his burning desire for revenge, which goes against his people’s belief in peace.
Roan moves towards initiation into the Friend, but not without reservations. He has never completely trusted Saint, and the more he learns, the more he begins to suspect Saint. He’s also troubled by his own continuing anger and desire for revenge, and the ease with which he learns the fighting arts. Then there are the visions he keeps having – visions of a rat, a mountain lion, and a goat woman – strange beings who call themselves Dirt Eaters. The search for answers will drive Roan into the post-apocalyptic wasteland known as the Devastation. The things and the people he encounters there will challenge him to the utmost.
The Dirt Eaters is an amazing book. This fascinating blend of post-apocalyptic science fiction with some fantasy elements manages to be both thought-provoking and exciting. The characters are, for the most part, rich, complex, imperfect human beings; there are no black-and-white caricatures here. One of the themes of the story is the difficulty of knowing what is right. Some characters believe that what they are doing is right, but on balance their actions bring evil to the world. And even those characters experience love and loss and other human emotions. Other characters have to do horrible things in order to work towards saving what people they can, knowing that if they try to save everyone, they’ll end up saving no one.
The story is written in present tense, which gives it a gripping sense of immediacy. It certainly holds your attention and keeps you turning pages until the very end. The Dirt Eaters is one of the best books that I’ve read this year, and I would consider nominating it for the Cybils, except that it was published in 2003, and so isn’t eligible.