Contagion provides a sad but satisfying resolution to Tim Lebbon’s TOXIC CITY series. Jack, the hero of the books, comes to grips with his new powers, while outside quarantined London, Jack’s mother and sister spread the truth of the mutation agent Evolve.
In the TOXIC CITY series, two years ago on a date now called Doomsday, a scientist named Angelina Walker released a virus-like compound in London. It changes people. Some people it gives extraordinary powers; other change into beasts or monsters. London was evacuated and quarantined, patrolled by a group called Choppers. Jack, his former girlfriend Lucy-Anne, and a group of friends entered the city to find his mother and sister who were being held captive. In the second book, Reaper (reviewed here) Jack confronted the altered man who was his father but now called himself Reaper. Reaper had a fearsome talent and had recruited a group of humans with amazing abilities, who called themselves Superiors. People with less powerful abilities are called Irregulars. Walker, herself transformed by the virus and now calling herself Nomad, infected Jack, giving him access to a universe of supernormal abilities. Jack and his friends confronted the sadistic “normal” human Miller, who directed the Choppers. Miller, losing the battle, activated a nuclear bomb set in the heart of London. That is where Reaper ended and where Contagion picks up. Each chapter heading is a number; the countdown of hours before the bomb explodes.
The book is fast-paced, filled with action sequences. Jack grows closer to an Irregular girl, Rhali, who was imprisoned and tortured by Miller. Lucy-Anne, who had headed north into Hampstead Heath looking for her brother, is reunited with the group. Her brother, who is something less than alive but more than a ghost, joins them with the news that the “monsters” on Hampstead Heath are heading south as well. They are only remotely human, but they know about the bomb and are coming to try and stop the detonation.
Jack, his friends and Lucy-Anne battle the remaining Choppers, monsters and the Superiors, although, somehow, the spark of humanity that Jack awakened in Reaper seems to be quickening into an actual flame in this book. While Lucy-Anne, who had precognitive powers before Evolve, struggles to decipher her strange dreams that include Nomad, Jack fights against the temptation to use one of his superpowers; the ability to infect everyone with Evolve himself just as Nomad did to him. This struggle explains the name of the book.
Usually, books tend to go slack around the middle somewhere but this doesn’t happen in Contagion. If anything, there’s a little too much action in it. There were a couple of times when I felt like Lebbon was holding out a possible solution and then snatching it away just to create activity. “Go over there! Quick! Run! No, not there! There!” The constant rushing about meant that very little time was spent on the developing relationship between Rhali and Jack, for example.
The difficult relationship between Jack and his mutated father, though, is handled well here. Jack really does manage to hold onto an ethical code in spite of the pressures on him, providing a role model for his angry, powerful father.
The clues to the solution at the end are well-laid and the foreshadowing Lebbon does is minimal, which is how foreshadowing should be. I thought the plan of Jack’s clever sister, outside the quarantine zone, came together a little too quickly and easily, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.
Contagion wraps up this storyline in a world changed enough by past events that other stories can be set here. The end is sad because not all the characters we like survive, but it is hopeful, and the major players are redeemed. The events that created the Toxic City are well-imagined. These books have a lot to offer a teen reader, and in an era where successful YA books are getting turned into movies, I think TOXIC CITY would make a fine movie franchise as well.