The Nature of Balance... written by Tim Lebbon... published by Liesure Books... 2001.
I have a bad habit of buying books, thinking they look cool... and then not reading them for awhile. I think, I'll get around to it eventually, but they often sit there for some time... I guess each book has its time. I actually bought this book several years ago, but the time to read it was now... or rather the last few days... the time to review and annotate it is now.
Remember the old saw that said if you had a dream where you were falling, and then hit bottom, that you would die in "real" life? Well, that concept is the catalyst of this story. One of the main characters, Peer, wakes up in the middle of the night from a bad dream (falling is part of it, but a voice inside tells her to wake up). She hears noises from her neighbor's apartment... Eventually there is a knock on the door and one of the couple from next door stumbles in... looking beaten and mangled (as if she has fallen from a great height). Peer goes over to check on the other half of the couple who is in a similar condition... only dead. Peer goes back to her own apartment to find her neighbor now also dead. Understandably distraught, she decides to leave and go to see a friend. In the lobby of the building, she sees another tenant who has gone quite mad... flinging himself against the walls. She makes it past him and goes out to find that the street gives off an odd feeling, and the few people out have also joined her neighbor in madness.
Cut to another main character (he is probably the main protagonist, but the story later revolves around a group): Blane is out in the woods, as he often is. He feels a closeness with nature, but doesn't know why... he also can't seem to remember much about his earlier life. He can't seem to sleep, not completely... ever. He just goes to the woods and lies on a tree trunk... getting as close to nature as he can. He knows the woods and its creatures well... tonight is different though. He notices birds dropping from trees and dying right around him. A deer comes right before him, and after he opens his eyes to see it, the deer is choked... its throat colapsing... and it also dies on the spot. Again, things are different in the world tonight. He heads to the nearby graveyard and sees a figure that seems familiar. He also notices all of the dead animals in the graveyard... and a little boy, dead... arranged in a particular manner, which seems to be a message for him.
Blane hears activity in the town square and goes there. He finds that there are many confused and mourning people there, with their dead around them. He talks to some, befriending a woman named Holly. They, the dead, seem to have been hit by the same thing that happened to those in Peer's building. They are just dead... as if chrushed, or beaten, having had a great fall. Blane and Holly try to call around town by phone... no response... from anyone. They call around to other towns, other countries... and still nothing. They finally decided to go out looking for help... and other "survivors."
Other characters are also introduced... Paul is a scientist doing a nature study on the outskirts of town. He wakes up... also from a falling dream, but in his dream he fell into a cushion of snow. He shows signs of bruising, but is clearly alive. He encounters strange behavior from the nearby animals... eventually to the point of danger. He leaves... looking for answers. He instead finds an abandoned ambulance... it's only occupant is blood, and a lot of it. Some way down the road he finds Blane, and returns with him to Holly and the others in town. A girl named Mary also comes into the picture... She is following a group of other kids (older teens, but really just kids), for lack of anything better to do. These kids like to torture and kill animals of the rich people of the neighborhood as a form of revenge... and fun. Mary doesn't care for it much, but just wants to be accepted into the group... so, she goes along. After the "event" of this particular evening, the animals get their revenge... by way of a woman (who is possibly something more than human) named Fay. She spares Mary, and gives her a mission, a reason to live... which is just what Mary has always wanted. Of course, Mary is desparate to feel needed and takes this mission from her easily accepted and beloved Fay. The mission is to kill a woman... Mary will know who she is, and when the time is right to kill her. Later, Mary meets Peer.
Eventually, all of these characters are on the road looking... and they find each other. They exchange stories, and agree that the "survivors" are those who didn't sleep last night. So, they band together and go searching. In this respect, the book sort of reminds me of Stephen King's The Stand, in the way that we have a group of people who have survived some sort of catastrophic "event," and are now out looking for fellow surviviors. They have a couple of "encounters" with Fay along the way... she has left other messages. Also, she allows the group to be attacked by hundreds of birds while the group is stopped at a service station/restaurant along the road. Fay has control over nature though, and when she thinks that Blane might be in danger of actually dying here, she wills the birds to drop dead where they are (after the group has been attacked and "bloody well" injured). Fay and Blane do have some sort of connection... Fay knows it, and Blane feels it somehow.
Blane "remembers" a bit, and becomes more aware of Fay. He tries to fool her by taking the group to a farmhouse to hide for awhile. This does not work. The situation sort of comes to a head there... more animal attacks, and Mary tries to do what she believes Fay wants her to do. All along the way... throughout the story, all of the characters notice that the animals and other parts of nature are beginning to change physically, in addition to the aggressive behavior toward humans. There are many mutations, although generally nothing too extreme. Nature is just changing. So... Blane goes to look for Fay to "settle" things... and Mary takes action...
Nearly the entire book feels like it's building up to something... This is fine, but at some point I started to wonder if the story would gain a focal point. The book probably could have had about 100 of its 400 pages edited out and been better for it... well, maybe. The climax does eventually happen, but it seems a bit anti-climactic after all of the build-up. Overall, it was a pretty good read for me though. I would suggest this to readers who enjoy stories with a dreamlike quality; and there are several dream sequences here. Also, I would suggest it to readers of "apocalyptic" fiction. It should be noted, however, that the title tells a lot about the story. Nature needs balance. It may seem like things are only being destroyed, but there must be balance...
Finally, I think that I should warn any potential readers that there is no explanation for the deaths by way of "falling dreams." I kept waiting for one, but it never came. Humans are connected to the rest of nature though... more than we really realise. I suppose if "she" wanted to "send a message" like this, it could happen. Think about it... look at the way the lunar cycle affects us, for example... you never know...