A Year of Orenda – The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith

Today it is my absolute pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for The Waiting Rooms, the brand new and altogether too believable thriller from Eve Smith. I was intrigued by the premise of this book even before our current pandemic lock down and I am eve thankful to publisher Prenda Books for supplying me with an early copy for review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for including me in the tour. Here’s is what the book is about:

Source: Advance Review Copy

About the Book

Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable, and a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’ … hospitals where no one ever gets well.

Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything. Because Kate is not the only secret that her mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.

Sweeping from an all-too-real modern Britain to a pre-crisis South Africa, The Waiting Rooms is epic in scope, richly populated with unforgettable characters, and a tense, haunting vision of a future that is only a few mutations away.

Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books

My Thoughts

This is either one of the best or worst timed novels in the to be released right now, and to be honest, I think that opinions on that will be divided. A book about a very different reality, where our over reliance upon antibiotics has led to a situation where some very drastic decisions are having to be made. Where an infection outbreak can lead to an instant lock down and where certain sectors of society, namely those over the ‘cut-off’ are denied what could possibly be lifesaving treatment as they are needed for those with a realistic chance of survival or recovery. Sound a little familiar? Perhaps a little close to home? Maybe, maybe not, but I certainly don’t know whether to laugh or cry right now as I write this review and the very first piece of music to blast from my playlist is O Fortuna … Talk about ominous 🤨😂

I’ll be honest – I’ve been really wanting to read this book, since way before lockdown began, and even the recent circumstances have not dulled my anticipation. If anything they have heightened it and made it feel all the more plausible. It is worth bearing in mind that for some, reading this book may be a little too soon, perhaps even a little too raw in given current circumstances, but those who have the benefit of a little distance or who are willing to give this book a chance will find themselves with a story which is part science and part mystery. Because this is not just dystopian fiction, it is also a suspenseful thriller in which readers are treated to an escalating story that begins many years before the anti-biotic crisis begins.

The story is told from three perspectives – sort of – those of Mary, a botanist who is drawn into a reasearch project to try and find a new medicinal plant to help to curb and treat a strain of drug resistant TB, Lily, a woman who is fast approaching the ‘cut-off’ age of 70 after which she can no longer receive treatment for any infection she may pick up, and Karen, a nurse whose works in the eponymous ‘waiting rooms’.

Mary’s story is all ‘pre-crisis’ and charts the story from the early days, when the recurrence of TB is in its infancy, through to the early days of the testing of a new miracle cure derived from some traditional African medicine. Mary was a woman I had mixed feelings about for reasons that will be apparent in the reading. She is led by her desires at some points, but also by her love of botany, and whilst some of her actions are questionable, by and large she is driven by an urge to do the right thing. Eve Smith has done a brilliant job in creating her character, bringing us someone who is just the right side of sympathetic to keep you invested in her future. As you read it becomes clear just how here story relates to that of Lily and Karen, but enough of the truth is held back to retain a kind of mystery there. She is more than just a pawn in a larger game, one that ultimately changes the course of the future.

Lily was a fascinating character. Sharp as a pin, and very aware of how close she was to that all important date I actually warmed to her very quickly. She more than anyone knew exactly what was facing her and although resident in a nursing home, counting down the days and watching as those around her fell victim to circumstance there was a singular determination to her, alongside a very strong feeling of resignation. Her’s was the story which brings the mystery as she is being taunted by someone over events from her past, but who and to what end? That is the riddle that needs to be solved. It is perhaps no surprise as to the who in the end, but the why is well hidden and the final reveal all the more devilish in it’s execution as a result.

Karen’s is a story is emotional for many reasons, and the overwhelming sense of importance of family that comes from her chapters lead to some of the most emotion driven scenes. Be it fear when she is faced with some pro-life activists, the dread that comes with the possibility of her daughter being caught up in a lockdown, or just her emotional tussle as she contemplates looking for her birth mother, her turmoil and reactions are pitched perfectly. I wanted to see her find a resolution, whatever that may be.

This is a book that will provoke a myriad of emotions within you as you read. Perhaps if I had read this six months ago I would have seen it through very different eyes, with a greatly altered emotional response to it as well. Whilst that idea of drug-resistant bacteria has always been around, that knowledge that for every step we take forward those pesky microbes find a way to mutate and evolve and keep coming right on back to get us, it is perhaps never more relevant that now. I would never have foreseen a time when a cruel mutation of the ‘cold & flu’ virus could cause such catastrophic impact that we would end up confined to our homes for months. And yet here we are.

I’d be lying if I said that didn’t change my perspective. Not so much that it makes for an uncomfortable read, but certainly to the point that it has made me more thoughtful. Whatever happens from here on in, our lives have changed. Little adjustments have to be made. Perhaps not as serious as the repercussions of the crisis in this novel – we will hopefully find a way to live with covid-19, a fact we should all hold onto right now. And yet, beyond the frightening possibilities of what could be that are posed by the author, this is a story rich in mystery and emotion, one which examines the very nature of relationships and the sacrifices made for family and for career.

Part mystery, part love story, part tale of family sacrifice, this thought-provoking story forces us to look at the manipulative ways of governments and big business, and reminds us that, in the end, disease shows no respect for age, creed, colour or wealth. The great leveller revealed in a story which, perhaps as much because of current circumstance as in spite of it, held me rapt from first page until the very last.

About the Author

Eve Smith writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues. Set twenty years after an antibiotic crisis,her debut novel The Waiting
Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and highly commended for The Brighton Prize.

When she’s not writing she’s romping across fields after her dog, trying to organise herself and her family or off exploring somewhere new.

Author LInks: Twitter | Website

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Books by Eve Smith

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