Review: Neands 2

Reviewed by Link Pickering

Dan Salmon’s Neands 2 is a perfect fit for young adults who enjoy dystopian science fiction stories and will immerse readers in the world of a virus that causes exaggerated de-evolution.

The sequel to Dan Salmon’s 2020 novel Neands, the story picks up with Charlie and friends Pru and Ivy as they navigate their way through a world overrun with Neands – homo sapiens infected with a virus which makes them hostile and aggressive as recessive Neanderthal genes come to the fore.

This novel also introduces Em and her younger brother Miro who bravely escape from their Neand-run hostel. After a slew of new escapades, the two groups eventually meet and learn to work together to further understand the virus and its effects. Because it’s set in the future, it emphasises the imminent effects of climate change and other current environmental issues, increasing the awareness of readers. It’s also bound to inspire readers to think creatively about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, encouraging the exercise of imagination to calm the stress and panic around the current virus.

But this book is bleaker than the first as hopelessness finds a way into the minds of the children and the focus shifts from adventure and survival to research and information. The plot twists uncovered at the end of the novel provide an abundance of new information which would improve the story when read for a second time, highlighting its ability to be re-read without the tediousness of knowing what is about to happen.

Some aspects of the novel may be confronting to younger readers, such as stealing for survival and the feelings of hopelessness, along with mentions of sex, drugs and other mature themes. However, the maturity of the young characters, and their relationships, is a reflection on how they’ve been forced to grow up and act as adults in their apocalyptic environment.

The first book included newspaper clippings, screenshots of chat room messages and handwritten notes littered throughout the pages, which are sadly missing from this sequel. These snippets of media grounded the story, contributing a unique connection to the world of the novel. The tagline “This virus is different” implies that the sequel is about an entirely new scenario which may be misleading, as the story is simply a continuation of the first.

But I thoroughly enjoyed the new perspective and story that the new characters bring. Em and Miro provide a renewed look at the challenging situation which widens the minds of the audience to encompass new opinions. Salmon does an excellent job of manipulating the repetitive plot when the two groups of characters meet to showcase their different mindsets and attitudes. Salmon also brings his skills as an award-winning documentary director and producer to the writing which contributes to his vibrant descriptions that inspire vivid images.

Nevertheless, some features of the plot made the novel feel disconnected as some storylines were seemingly forgotten and then revisited in the concluding chapters. The conclusion also felt abrupt, where the final 5-10 chapters advanced at a much faster rate than the previous story. I feel more detail and a slower pace would have benefitted the resolution. Regardless, the plot is engaging and will keep readers interested.

I don’t know if a third book is planned in this series, but I would be interested to see where Salmon might take the story. Neands 2 leaves room for another addition and I am intrigued to follow the characters further into their lives, when they have grown up, or from the perspective of another country. I would have liked to see the perspective of children in another country, outside of Aotearoa New Zealand, and their experiences with the virus.

Overall, though, Neands 2 is a perfect fit for young adults who enjoy dystopian science fiction stories and will immerse readers in the world of a virus that causes exaggerated de-evolution.

 Reviewed by Link Pickering