A near-future thriller with clever details, Kyra Johnson
October 26, 2021
Violet Black is the first book in Eileen Merriman’s Black Spiral Trilogy. Set in the near future, it tells the tale of two teenagers, Violet Black and Ethan Wright, who have survived the deadly M-fever virus. The virus has killed hundreds of people in NZ, with other cases in Germany and Australia. Most patients who get M-fever die from it or develop encephalitis, which also has a high chance of death.
But against all odds, Ethan and Violet have survived. And they haven’t just survived, they’ve changed. The two of them meet in the hospital during their recovery and discover they can talk to each other without speaking out loud. Each can hear the other’s thoughts and see the colours of their emotions. Neither of them know how, but they do know it is because of having M-fever. They are curious, intrigued, but also afraid. They continue to talk to each other, even when Ethan has been discharged from the hospital and gone home. When a neurologist named Noel Marlow comes to see Violet in the hospital, she worries that she is in trouble. She tries to get Ethan to help as she is dragged off to an organisation called the Spiral Foundation under the pretense that the M-fever virus is still in her brain. Marlow claims they will help her, but Violet questions whether that is really what they want.
Ethan leaves home once Violet tells him what has happened to her. He tries to find her in secret, but only gets found by the Foundation himself. After the two have separately adjusted and settled to their new ‘home’, they meet again and eventually the four others who are like them; who can think-speak. Together, they all begin their training as undercover agents to stop terrorist attacks across the world. Their skills grow, as does Violet and Ethan’s relationship. The Foundation selects Violet and Phoenix – one of the other M-fever survivors – to go on the first mission in Berlin. In the few days they are there, Violet and Phoenix collect information for their mission, while Ethan discovers secrets about the Foundation. But it all comes to a sharp stop when Violet is attacked. With Violet’s life on the line, Phoenix makes a decision which will stop someone’s heart forever…
Throughout the story, the chapters switch between the perspectives of Ethan and Violet. They have a lot in common, primarily because of them both having M-fever and the think-speaking ability it causes. The communication the two have between each other, both verbally and mentally, is easy to understand and cleverly laid out. I like the way Merriman occasionally uses sentence fragments to show the tension of the situation or between characters. I also like the size of the chapters and pace of the book.
I found two main lessons in this novel. The first is the importance of having good friends and family which you can rely on. An example of this in the story is how Violet and Ethan support each other and come to one another’s aid whenever they need it. The second lesson is to not trust anyone until you are satisfied with what you know about each other and can feel completely comfortable and safe around each other.
The most relevant part of Violet Black for me was the M-fever virus itself. I read that Merriman wrote most of the novel during NZ’s Level 4 Lockdown. During the novel, there is mention of COVID-19 which I can remember seeing, because I was reading it as I went down to get my COVID-19 vaccination. The mention was during a news report which Ethan was watching – ‘… and the risk of the clusters of M-fever escalating to a pandemic of COVID-19-like proportions.’ This shows how Merriman has cleverly used this current event (and others) to add more relevance to the readers.
Violet Black is a very good read, with sustained suspension and a simple yet deep plot line. I give it 4.5/5 stars and recommend it to anyone who is 13+ and likes to read about the near future.
- Kyra Johnson lives in Greymouth.