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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The Ballad of Before: A Love Story by Dana Stewart Quinney is a dystopian romance that follows the lives of three interconnected individuals after the collapse of civilization. The population has tapered off to a near dribble of survivors, the non-survivors having succumbed at the End to radioactive fallout, injury, and plague. Those who did not die from the aforementioned were further culled through a violent, twisted street form of natural selection in a newly anarchistic dog-eat-dog world. Gangs formed, be it for power, protection, or even zealotry. Rachel, a nurse before the End, continues her medical work in the shadows despite the danger, even from those she means to help. There is no trust. Rachel saves Teddy and finds something that resembles companionship. Rachel is also connected to a gang captain—Cap—in a transactional relationship where one really does need the other, for the moment. Teddy, Rachel, and Cap slowly build trust. Cap wants physical perfection and to expand his empire. Teddy wants Rachel. And Rachel? Rachel wants out.
The Ballad of Before is an exceptionally well-written book with engaging and fully developed characters, and with a desolate, ravaged world built in a southern California landscape that has seen its former glory crumble. Dana Stewart Quinney has thoroughly woven the people, the streets, the sanctuaries, the hierarchies, the gangs both Inside and Outside, and the new dystopian social order into a series of subplots that stretch out like Thrombophlebitis. Some of the ancillary characters could probably lead a spin-off of their own. Celia, who loves Cap so much, is one of his former 'ladies' and defacto chief consort; her full backstory would be interesting to explore. The evolution of Teddy is impressive and, in my mind, he blossoms into this genius, streetwise Timothée Chalamet-esque Adonis. I am aware that I'm mish-mashing weird people here but that's indicative of Quinney's unique character craftsmanship. Dystopian novels are a dime a dozen right now and it's a minefield trying to find ones that are worth reading. The Ballad of Before is. Also, bonus points for not having zombies. Very highly recommended.