Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: Toxxic

Author: Jane Hennigan

Publisher: Angry Robot


Reviewed by: Stephen Frame

Other details: Paper back, £9.99

Toxxic by Jane Hennigan

Stephen Frame

If you read and enjoyed Moths, you’ll want to read Toxxic. There, review done.

Okay, you want a touch more. No problem. As the follow-on to Moths, Toxxic takes off in some interesting directions, but it’s very much its own story rather than a sequel. The cast of characters is entirely new, with the exception of Tony, one of the men befriended by Mary, the hero of Moths. Tony plays a central role in Toxxic as one of the first men to be treated with the vaccine, the disclosure of which brought Moths to its climactic end. Now Tony, along with some other men, are to be re-introduced into society after being placed with foster families. Joining Tony in the outside world is Artemis. Tony and Artemis are very different, with Tony being something of a sensitive soul who struggles to cope with all that is going on around him, while Artemis is far more muscular in his approach to his new world. How they deal with this momentous change in their lives provides one of the two main narrative arcs in the book and brings in one of the two main female characters, Evie, who takes Artemis into her home and family even though she is going through a rough patch trying to hold her marriage together.

This plot thread is about families and communities accepting strangers who, up to now, have been viewed as anything from a threat to a burden, and it is one of the great strengths of this book and what gives it its character. It’s interesting to read a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel that deals with the issue of ‘How do we get back to where we were before?’ Naturally, there’s conflict, both within the families and from their community, making the story all the better. There are a couple of key turns in the plot that grind the gears of credibility, but once past these, it’s an enjoyable story, though much less harrowing than Moths.

The second main plot thread brings in the other main character, a mystery woman known only as XX104. This is her code name as part of the XX movement, an underground group that opposes the reintegration of men into society and who are committed to ever more extreme methods of achieving this aim. This thread gives a neat counterpoint to Tony and Evie’s stories. The whole book is told from a shifting point of view, with each character being given the spotlight in alternating scenes. Ultimately, the two plot strands come together as the book heads towards a thriller-esque ending.

The journey was more satisfying than the destination in this read. While Toxxic doesn’t have the same high-stakes and harrowing narrative as Moths had, particularly in the flashback sections, which are used again, although, to a lesser extent, the book lends itself to reflection on our own issues with topics such as immigration, disruptive protest and gender politics. This made for far more enjoyable reading than the climax of the book, which felt rushed and messy, like a patch-together of thriller staples such as chases in the dark, cut-out villains and noble sacrifice. It doesn’t spoil what has gone before, so Toxxic stays as a recommended read; a deeper exploration of the world opened up in Moths.

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