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The Patron Saint of Plagues    by Barth Anderson order for
Patron Saint of Plagues
by Barth Anderson
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 2006 (2006)

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*   Reviewed by Belle Dessler

What if, in the near future, accessing the Internet no longer required being near a computer? What if, instead, this vast communication and information network was now based off a chip implanted in the brain of just about every man, woman and child? That's the intriguing and ultimately horrifying reality Anderson uses to set the scene for his new bio-thriller.

The city of Ascension, once known as Mexico City, is facing its biggest challenge to date. A virus is spreading, and it's killing faster than any other threat Henry David Stark, virus hunter for the American Center for Disease Control, has ever seen. Armed with what little information he's managed to gather, he sets off for Ascension, where panicked citizens fill the streets. Because of the virus, access to the pilon network has been disrupted, and the sudden loss of communication is jarring and frightening for Ascension's inhabitants.

It's up to Stark to contain and find a cure for the virus, but his allies have secrets of their own, and some are starting to contract the lethal disease themselves. It's a race against time as Stark begins to suspect this isn't a naturally evolving virus, but a man-made threat unlike any other.

The Patron Saint of Plagues is a very ambitious novel. Combining a biological threat with a futuristic setting would have been difficult enough, but Anderson goes a step further, turning his depiction of the near-future into a completely different world than the one we know. What we now call the Internet has become a powerful communication tool, one that humans rely on so much that once it's gone, the population is one step away from total chaos.

Although the premise is fascinating, the novel gets bogged down in descriptions of this new Earth. Because everything from the culture to the technology is so foreign, it all needs to be explained in detail. When combined with the fact that the biological terminology and the virus itself need to be elaborated upon, the pace of the story slows down enormously. To make things even more difficult, the speech patterns of the younger generations have changed, and Stark's dialogue is tremendously hard to follow. He speaks without using the verb to be, which requires extraordinary levels of concentration on the part of the reader. I frequently had to re-read dialogue to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Ultimately, The Patron Saint of Plagues offers an intriguing premise, but its slow pace and challenging dialog make it a difficult read.

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