Delilah S. Dawson’s The Violence First Look: A Terrifying Illness Sparks Chaos

Delilah S. Dawson’s The Violence First Look: A Terrifying Illness Sparks Chaos
Crop of the cover of The Violence. (Image: Del Rey Books)

Delilah S. Dawson is best known around these parts for her Star Wars books (Phasma, Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire), but she’s also written several non-Star Wars fantasies (like the Tales of Pell with Kevin Hearne). Her latest, though, is The Violence, a dystopian thriller about a woman’s perilous path to freedom.

Here’s a quick description, followed by the full cover reveal — it’s by Black Kat Design, based on an image by Jonathan Kambouris/Gallery Stock — and a brief (but bloody) excerpt from The Violence.

Chelsea Martin appears to be the perfect housewife: married to her high school sweetheart, the mother of two daughters, keeper of an immaculate home.

But Chelsea’s husband has turned their house into a prison; he has been abusing her for years, cutting off her independence, autonomy, and support. She has nowhere to turn, not even to her narcissistic mother, Patricia, who is more concerned with maintaining the appearance of an ideal family than she is with her daughter’s actual well-being. And Chelsea is worried that her daughters will be trapped just as she is — then a mysterious illness sweeps the nation.

Known as The Violence, this illness causes the infected to experience sudden, explosive bouts of animalistic rage and attack anyone in their path. But for Chelsea, the chaos and confusion the virus causes is an opportunity — and inspires a plan to liberate herself from her abuser.

Image: Del Rey Books Image: Del Rey Books

One day at lunch, the strangest thing happens.

Two boys get in a fight. But something about it is deeply wrong.

One of them, Jordan Stack, is kind of an arsehole and gets in fights all the time, so it’s no surprise that he’s involved. But the other one, Thomas Canton, is a scrawny, dorky kid who can’t even run laps without wheezing. He barely speaks in class and when he does, his voice is a whispery mumble, but now he stands, his chair squealing as he pushes back from the table. Ella looks up at him, wondering what’s gotten into him, and he jumps at Jordan like a lion leaping on a gazelle — no, no, like a trusted chihuahua launching itself at an unsuspecting toddler, so sudden, so feral, so blindly furious — driving the larger boy to the floor between the tables. Now Thomas is on top of Jordan, straddling his chest, slamming Jordan’s head into the ground again and again. All the kids gather around them, as keen and twitchy as sharks smelling blood. The boys start yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”, while the girls first command them and then beg them to stop. But they don’t stop.

The sound Jordan’s head makes, bouncing off the speckled floor, is like a watermelon being dropped. Red droplets scatter and the sound changes a little, goes squishier, and Ella only notices these small details because she is sitting at the next table over, frozen in place. Some people are recording the whole thing on their phones, but she is doing the same thing she does at home when Dad winds his arm around Mum’s neck: just watching, numb, still and silent, in horror.

Mr. Brannen and Ms. Baez show up and pry Thomas off Jordan, who isn’t moving. Thomas doesn’t attack them, though — he keeps lunging away to get at Jordan, his small white hands curled into bloodied claws. Mr. Brannen carries him out of the room like an angry cat, the boy twisting and writhing silently in the big man’s grasp. Ms. Baez falls to her knees with a heavy thump, gently tapping on Jordan’s cheeks and lifting his head to inspect the bloody spot on the ground as Shelby Miller loudly explains that you’re not supposed to move a hurt person’s neck. Soon the teachers arrive and herd everyone back to class with their half-eaten lunches to watch nature documentaries as they mechanically chew at their desks.

Thomas and Jordan don’t come back to class. Jordan’s friend Stevie tells everyone that he’s in the hospital in a coma. The evening news talks about it without naming names, and Mum asks Ella a bunch of questions that she obviously doesn’t know the answers to about The Boys in Her Class and bullying and drugs and the school’s discipline issues.

The weirdest thing, though, is that Ella was right there, sitting with Hayden and Tyler and Olivia and Sophie, and she saw the whole thing herself. Before it happened, the boys weren’t talking or even paying attention to each other. Jordan wasn’t bullying Thomas, didn’t steal his lunch or threaten him or laugh at him or even look at him. He was talking to Stevie and eating a sandwich, just being normal. They were all just being normal. And for all that Jordan is a total jerk, she’s never actually seen him go after Thomas; it’s like they never even acknowledged each other’s existence before that moment. Thomas was reading a book and eating a bag of crackers. He didn’t say anything. Nothing was said to him. He just dropped his crackers, stood up, turned, and attacked.

The whole thing makes no sense.

The scariest part, to Ella, was the look in Thomas’s eyes.

It was like… no one was there at all.


From the book The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson. Copyright © 2022 by Delilah S. Dawson. Reprinted by arrangement with Del Rey Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson will be released February 1, 2022; you can pre-order a copy here.