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Snakeskin Road    by James Braziel order for
Snakeskin Road
by James Braziel
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

James Braziel, author of Birmingham, 35 Miles, now brings readers Snakeskin Road, a noir SF odyssey set in a post apocalyptic near future. It begins in 2044 Chicago, the Saved World, where Delia has for nine years found refuge with her sister Bobbie, a 'city-state interpreter', while longing for the time her daughter Jennifer will join her there.

Delia had migrated from the Southeastern Desert, which killed both her clay rock miner husbands young. Her daughter Jennifer stayed behind to marry another miner, Mathew Harrison, who works the Alabama River. Jennifer recently wrote to say she had her visa and was coming to join her mother (first taking the bus to Birmingham), but Delia has heard nothing since. Now an emaciated girl shows up, with news of Jennifer and letters she wrote en route to her mother.

Through her letters, readers join a pregnant Jennifer as she begins her harrowing journey. Disaster strikes early as the bus breaks down in a dust storm. Patrollers take the survivors to Birmingham where they find the desert has spread north and there are no longer flights out to the Saved World. Refugees exist in horrific conditions that get steadily worse. There, Jennifer takes responsibility for young Mazy and eventually - after the Red Crosses leave - makes a hard choice (the only one available) for them both.

To escape certain death, Jennifer sells herself and Mazy into three years of slavery on Snakeskin Road. They're separated and Jennifer is sold to a brothel in Cairo, Illinois, where she does what she has to to survive. After a reunion and an escape, a happy ending is foiled by a bounty hunter named Rosser who's on their trail as southern deserters. Though I found Snakeskin Road depressing, Braziel does a thorough job of portraying a post apocalyptic United States.

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