Monday, 22 September 2014

Dollywagglers by Frances Kay - Reviewed by Rob Bayliss

                                           Please see below for giveaway information!

"After the plague, most of us are dead, and some of the survivors aren't behaving very well. But we can still have a laugh, can't we? Letting go is for softies. I'm alone--delightfully and comfortably alone. I don't do crying. . ."

In an all too near dystopian future the world has been devastated by a flu-like epidemic. The survivors of the “eppie” stumble through the ruins, as food and security become rarer commodities. Survivors are split between those who accepted a libido destroying vaccine and those who refused it. “Refs” were forced to bear a tattoo on their forearms declaring their status. Most people have “parped” (died) and society has broken down into a lawless land of gang warfare.

Through this bleak wasteland shuffles our main character, the androgynous Billie. We follow Billie as she employs her strategy for survival; she is tall, dresses in men's clothes and seldom speaks to avoid revealing her gender. When she does speak she can entertain and tell a tale because, before the eppie, she had been a puppeteer, a Dollywaggler.

Billie is embittered and seeking redemption as she embarks on a journey from London to the Suffolk coast, where once she plied her craft. During her fraught travels she faces vengeful gunmen, gangs of lawless teens and is almost forced into a harem. She seems to have found a paradise of peace before her journey’s end but the brutal horror of her world snatches it away.

Meanwhile back in London, Sally stays in a house and strives to survive any way that she can, trading herself for food. While in the shadows, the depraved predator Rodney indulges his wicked tastes; that is until he discovers he is a puppet himself, a puppet called Leon. Those who pull his strings have a plan, a plan to rebuild the world to their design as has always been their wont.

Dollywagglers is an extraordinary book; the tale is as dark as night and yet interspersed with a good deal of humour, especially as Billie observes the world with a knowing and wickedly dry wit. A Dollywaggler herself, she sees how people and events are manipulated.

Frances Kay creates some great characters and the story draws you in without compromise. At times it made me laugh even though (this being a dystopian tale) I knew my smile would be brutally snatched away soon enough. It is beautifully written and descriptive, such as how the author describes the band of ransacking brigands - "... as they move across from Swansea to Bristol to Birmingham to Luton to Norwich, a spinning, dizzy ball of noxious gases, they attract, they magnetize, they pull the surviving world into their field of gravity."  I loved the way the disaster has its own developing mythology and terms such as parped, eppie and refs had so easily slipped into the everyday lexicon of the survivors. As soon as I had finished Dollywagglers, I wanted to read it again just in case I had missed something. It’s on my Kindle and I will return to it very soon.

Does Billie find her redemption? Without giving too many details away, yes and no. When all seems lost a glimmer of hope for the future emerges. Dollywaggler she may be but Billie refuses to be a puppet...

Dollywagglers is available as an ebook and paperback at Amazon.

For a chance to win a copy of Dollywagglers, simply comment below or on this review's associated Facebook thread.

Frances Kay is a full member of the Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters’ Guild and of the Society of Authors, UK, with an impressive background in screenwriting, and published by both Picador and Crimson Romance.
Once upon a time, Frances was the voice and puppet of Cosmo in the BBC’s You and Me programme

This review was written by Rob Bayliss. Rob is currently working on his Flint and Steel, Fire and Shadow fantasy series. Part one, The Sun Shard is available at Amazon.


  1. What an interesting dark tale...appropriate to the times. I would love a copy.

    1. Its a very well constructed tale Linda. If pestilence rode forth I could see events unfolding like this story.

  2. Definitely intrigued! Thanks for the review, Rob.

    Hannah Davies

  3. This is a great book. I can attest to that, having read an early version.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Jo, its a real page turner; absolutely loved it, despite the bleakness of the subject.

  5. One of the best books I've read this year. Great review, too.

    (By the way, I'm not related to the reviewer, as far as I know.)

    1. If your family roots are originally the West Midlands John, then you never know!

  6. I've read it twice now. There is certainly an urge to go back for a another glimpse into the abyss. Warped, crazy but horribly believable vision of human behaviour when the moral compass has swung away from what we consider to be our usual reality.