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Mandate Thirteen by Joseph J. Dowling - Book Blitz + Giveaway

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I am so excited that MANDATE THIRTEEN by Joseph J. Dowling is available now and that I get to share the news! 

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a $30 Manta Press Gift card and some cool swag courtesy of Joseph & Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, check out the giveaway info below.

 

About The Book:

Title: MANDATE THIRTEEN

Author: Joseph J. Dowling

Pub. Date: January 10, 2023

Publisher: Manta Press, Ltd.

Formats:  Paperback, eBook

Find it: Goodreadshttps://books2read.com/MANDATE-THIRTEEN

In a world with dwindling birth rates, all young women must submit to compulsory fertility checks at the age of thirteen. For those able to conceive, a docile existence inside the Birthing Schools beckons—far worse if they fall into the wrong hands.


When the clandestine Baby Farmers, and their brutal leader Miko, arrive to snatch his daughter, Michael must make a split-second choice: risk his own freedom to protect hers… or lose her forever. Mandate Thirteen is a gritty dystopian thriller for fans of Children of Men, A Handmaid’s Tale, and The Running Man.

“An action-packed, cross-country adventure between father and daughter as they dodge authorities, reconnect with old acquaintances, and meet new people (good, bad, and crazy), forging connections at every stop. I loved every aspect of their journey and how they learned so much about themselves on the way. This is dystopian in every way that matters. A worthy addition to any library.” Preye, Literary Darlings

 

Excerpt:

CHAPTER: ONE

She wasn’t eating. Again. His daughter had never possessed a great appetite—just as well, or he’d have even less to eat. But concern should trump greed, right? It was a dead heat. Michael tore his gaze from her plate and instead stared through the grubby twelfth-floor window, where a brisk wind sent granite boulders of cloud scudding across the miserable concrete skyline. A smattering of lit windows glowed back in the autumnal gloom, amber beacons among an ocean of hollow apartments, empty since the exodus. 

Hope stopped toying with her food and placed down her knife and fork. “I think I’m finished. Do you want the rest?” Perhaps she’d sensed his hunger, or his eyes had betrayed his complaining stomach.

He swallowed the gathering saliva in his mouth and dragged her plate across the table. Now it was her turn to watch him, yet the innocence in her sweet smile never faltered. Even though he tried to slow himself, the remnants disappeared in a few greedy gulps.

When he glanced across the sparse room, a blurred reflection of his hunched form peered back from the blank television screen. Underneath, a red LED blinked, suggesting the thing might suddenly flick back into life. Lord knew he’d tried to fix it, at least to appease his wife, Allison. What a waste of time that’d been. Modern appliances were no more user serviceable than a discarded tampon. His wife and daughter had never quite forgiven him for owning a car from the previous century—an inefficient lump of metal, according to them—but these crappy modern cars were no different from cheap, flimsy TVs, designed to be driven until they broke, then dumped like thousand kilo piles of garbage. The twentieth-century cars he loved were living, breathing machines, with more personality than half the God-bothering human sheep, squawking their parroted political slogans on the streets below.

He glanced at his watch. Allison would be home from work soon. At least she no longer bothered asking how the job hunts had gone. As usual, the day’s efforts had been an epic failure. Potential employers took one look at his criminal record and told him the position had been filled. Filled my ass. Soon, they’d force him into a compulsory work detail to keep his meagre state subsistence. It was too ironic. London’s work-age population had halved in fifteen years, so why weren’t there ample vacancies for men like him? They considered plenty of roles too menial even for the machines, but when the work placement scheme provided an army of unwilling volunteers, even those jobs were beyond reach.

That familiar bile of impotent frustration gathered again, welling in his stomach and rising up his throat. He scratched at the palms of his hands with his fingernails, while an oppressive silence shrouded him, charged with electricity like the air preceding a thunderstorm. His thoughts were getting too bleak, too active; without the distraction of a background hum, they might grow legs of their own.

It was almost time for the late afternoon rerun of Brain Drain, one of the more entertaining quiz shows, and he jerked into life for a moment before remembering the bastard appliance was broken. With each passing day, he missed the numbing comfort of television’s tit less, but today he needed a surrogate. He raised himself from the table and flicked on the radio. By the time the unwelcome rapid-fire chatter of a news broadcast filled his ear, he’d already collapsed onto the sofa. He and his wife played daily games of ping-pong with the dial. She’d won this round, leaving the radio tuned to a 24-hour news channel, probably that morning while he slept in. The remote-control batteries were dead, of course. If he wanted to spin back to his favourite rock station, he’d have to haul himself upright again, but his last vestiges of strength had turned heel and fled.

He sighed and allowed himself to sink deeper into the couch. Perhaps they’ll report some good news for once. Not a chance. When had a news channel last mentioned anything uplifting? No, it would be more trouble in Europe—either a right-wing party seizing control, or a left-wing uprising, if anyone was keeping track—or perhaps another historic old seaside town lost to rising water levels. If it was a slow news day, they might report another looming natural disaster on a different continent, but those usually got ignored.

Back when he was a kid, at least they shoe-horned some light amidst the darkness. Now, like a worn vinyl record stuck in the same dismal groove, the endless cycle of bland horror kept repeating. The oppressive tone never wavered, nor did the grand illusion of keeping the masses informed. Other than Allison, whose bizarre interest in keeping up to date had swollen into a morbid obsession, who even bothered to listen anymore?

These days, except for necessity or argument’s sake, they rarely even spoke. When they did, it was impossible to converse without touching on the day’s news headlines, important for a fleeting moment, then forgotten. They always sculpted their bullshit to fit their ever-shifting narrative, and even five minutes sapped his patience. What did she expect him to do with the information, anyway? But this time, the lead story hooked even his jaded ear.

As the population of England and Wales drops below thirty million for the first time in over a century, the government today announced a new mandate to reduce the age of compulsory fertility checks from fourteen to thirteen with immediate effect.

A pain stabbed at his chest as he digested the headline. Thirteen? Christ, they had to be getting desperate. Hope had recently turned thirteen herself. The poor girl should be out having fun with her friends, not thinking about which hideous option was the least awful: being declared barren or getting hauled off to one of those dreadful schools.

The female announcer’s voice, stern and devoid of joy, yielded to a male politician’s privately educated tones. The voice, or perhaps the way each word resonated with thinly disguised insincerity, sounded familiar. It belonged not to a concerned man of the people, but to a slimy high-ranking member of the Conservative Christian Alliance—Piers Beauchamp.

You, the public, have trusted us to address the issues this great nation faces. This is not a painless process, and the decision to introduce mandate thirteen has not been an easy one. But, in these challenging times, our officially sanctioned birthing schools provide free board and three meals a day for life, alongside the best medical care available. Anyone with a fertile family member should make themselves known immediately. We’re offering amnesty to anyone who has avoided their duty thus far. You will not be punished. In addition, we’re increasing the annual family stipend to six thousand new pounds. After the amnesty period, we’re increasing the penalty for non-compliance…”  

He wished he could travel through the radio waves, only to appear at the other end like some uncaged, malevolent spirit, and rip the bastard’s tongue from his throat. The likes of Beauchamp didn’t worry about punishments, or a measly six grand a year for giving up their precious daughters. No, it was one rule for the scum in the tower blocks, while the right-wing Christian elite did whatever the hell they liked.

He glanced across at his daughter, now staring out the same window, probably at the grime-encrusted tower blocks which dominated the landscape. She looked content, with her dimpled chin resting in the crook of her palm. Perhaps she’d found the same stark beauty he’d discovered as a youth, hidden within London’s cityscape. Back then, it was full of promise and intrigue. Now, he only saw a bleak reminder of their isolated existence in those impassive grey slabs, rising from the earth like silent sentinels, watching over the idle leftovers of society, those either too scared or too stupid to leave. So, which are you, Michael?

The ocean of calm on her perfect face didn’t betray whether she’d absorbed the broadcast. Would she understand the implications? After the latest announcement, they could expect an imminent summons to the Medicentre for fertility checks. The odds of a positive result were low, of course. According to the latest stats, which Allison had eagerly sought, only one-in-fifteen.

After hauling himself upright, he trudged across the room and switched to a music station which played non-stop classic rock, mostly from the previous century. It was the station’s famed happy hour, a daily dose of uplifting songs, no interruptions, and no bloody news. Free’s ‘Alright Now,’ Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’,’ Foo Fighters’ ‘Times Like These’—hopeful messages whispered through the dense fog of time, beamed from an era when humanity had known true optimism.

He flopped back onto the sofa and allowed the music to envelop him in a fragile cocoon. Maybe the world could be that way again. Maybe. If humanity bothered to wake up. Right now, that thought seemed as likely as a time machine whisking him into the early nineties—although what a glorious dream. The past had never seemed more attractive.

A key scraped at the lock, throwing him from the depths of introspection so quickly it was like plunging into icy water. “Hi honey,” he said, jumping to his feet, wearing a grin like a circus bear.

Allison flicked her head towards him with barely disguised contempt. His heart raced with a powerful idea that he’d toyed with many times. What if I tell her about the affair? In all honesty, their relationship had suffered a downward spiral in the year since his indiscretions. Would she respect him more for coming clean and admitting fault, or was ignorance her way of holding onto those last frayed ribbons of dignity?

“Did you catch the news today?” Her question sounded more like an accusation.

Michael nodded. “Fucking Beauchamp and those Christian Tory bastards. Thirteen? It’s insane.”

“Have you spoken about it?” Allison flicked her head towards Hope, who was now immersed into her Metaverse, or whatever method of escapism kids used to distract themselves from the horror of reality nowadays. Who could blame her? She must’ve noticed their deteriorating living standards, but had her parents’ subtle digs and passive aggressive exchanges filtered into her subconscious? Probably, but no one could expect to survive childhood unscathed nowadays.

“Uh, not yet.”

“I’ll talk to her tonight. It’s better coming from her mother. What about the car? Have you sold it yet?”

Here we go again. Every evening, they skirted around the real issues in their relationship like two weary boxers in the closing stages of a twelve-round bout. The status of his only valuable possession was the latest substitute battleground. The question hung like an accusation and his internalised response rang out just as clearly. Course I fucking haven’t.

“Uh, not yet. Bloody time wasters. Had another guy come kicking the tyres and taking the piss with another lowball offer, you know?” How long would the excuses wash? But then, for all he knew, his could be the last Mark III Ford Capri in existence. He’d saved this poor thing—little more than a hunk of metal condemned to rust in a farmer’s field—and nurtured it back to life over countless nights, with his own oil-permeated hands, burning and red-raw from the cold. He had little else to look forward to, except thrashing the Capri around a moss-bound racetrack a few times a year. Besides, selling it would never fix their financial worries. The growing stack of bills on their Payscan credit account would instantly absorb the income.

“If we miss another reminder, we’ll get C-listed. Hell, Michael, the TV’s been broken for weeks, and Hope needs new clothes. Can’t you think of anyone but yourself?”

Hope looked up at the mention of her name. “It’s OK, Mum. I can manage with what I have.”

“We’re lucky they don’t bother evicting people from this dump anymore.” Her protestations lacked their usual intensity. Perhaps she’d resigned herself to their crappy situation.

“Look, the classic car market’s going to rebound any day. If I hold on for a few more months—” She cut him off with a snort and stomped into the kitchen. Yes, there was something different about her today, like she’d spent weeks thrashing around in storm-swept seas and they’d finally drained, leaving her exhausted, but alive and breathing on the ocean bed. Her inner turmoil had calmed, as if she’d made peace with a difficult decision.

All at once, the realisation struck. She’s leaving me. Relief washed over him, cold and shocking, like the brutal honesty of a drunk relative. Who could blame her when he couldn’t bring home enough money to feed his family? Without the extra food credits from Allison’s part-time voluntary work for the local Christian Conservative Women’s Group, the three of them would go even hungrier. What a tasteless joke to call it volunteering when the alternative was starvation and a potential shunning by the area parish. Not that he cared what the local bible-bashers thought about his family, but they had far too much sway for their own good.

A hundred questions crowded his brain. Where would he stay and how often would he see Hope? Would she have a new father? He glanced up at Allison, but she tossed her coat onto the hanger and slumped onto the battered old sofa, still warm and indented from his body. It creaked and groaned, but his wife kept silent. If there was to be a genuine confrontation, it wasn’t happening now. He sighed and took a seat at the table, resting his glum face on his hands. It wasn’t fair to force her to leave. No, he’d take the decision out of her hands and disappear without argument, allowing them both to keep their pride intact.

After nightfall, while his wife and daughter slept, he quietly rolled out of bed and reached underneath for his rucksack. When he’d started keeping a bug-out pack, she’d laughed and called him a paranoid prepper. He’d always imagined it would be the two of them hitting the road together, in search of pastures new, and once Hope arrived, as a family.

He moved into the living room, placed the bag down, and took a seat. The bag stood upright on the threadbare carpet, glaring back like an accusation. If he walked out now, he could never return. Was pride worth the risk of losing his daughter? Was it worth the self-hatred? He wondered if his old man had been blessed with a similar moment of clarity before evaporating into the ether. If so, he’d chosen to ignore it, or maybe the call had been too strong. Let’s sleep on it, Michael. Maybe tomorrow, the world would take on a rosier hue.

He rose from the capsized old armchair, dragged himself into the darkened bedroom, and pushed the bag back under the bed. Allison hadn’t moved. She lay facing the wall, with her bare back glistening copper from a sliver of moonlight which peeked through the curtains. He undressed and slipped back between the sheets, shivering, then pushed himself towards her, seeking the warmth of her body. She moaned and moved tighter to the wall. See, even in her sleeping state, she can only recoil from my touch. Next door, through the paper-thin walls, Hope murmured in her sleep.


Hope awoke with her mother rousing her gently from the swirling depths of an early morning dream. Waves of bitter sadness washed over her, followed by relief when she realised none of it was real. Her father didn’t have a new wife and child; he hadn’t looked through her like she’d ceased to exist, without the faintest spark of recognition behind a hollow stare.

“Wake up, honey.” The moment her eyes unglued, and her mother’s concerned face floated into view, the dream’s detail faded like a sandcastle, washed away beneath the incoming tide.

“A mail-drone came this morning with a summons for your hormone check. We better get it over with and see the doctor today, so get ready.”

“Already?” she croaked, but her eyelids drooped, shutting off the nascent morning. When her mother shook her again, it seemed like there had been only a nanosecond gap. She stretched and emitted a long, groaning yawn, then sat up and reached for the steaming cup of tea her mother had placed on her little bedside table.

“Thanks, Mum.”

With each sip of weak tea, the day loomed closer. With a jolt, she remembered her mother’s words, and the previous night’s conversation. It was the big one: her first hormone and fertility check. Her parents had never hidden the population’s dwindling female fertility rate from her. Ever since she’d learned about sex, she’d been aware this day would come. If she tested positive, they might take her away from her parents, and if she received a negative result, as expected amongst her generation, she’d probably never bear children. But now the moment had arrived. It seemed unreal, like it was happening to somebody else.

With the mug empty, she could delay no further. She hauled herself from between warm sheets, and threw back her dusty and frayed yellow curtains, revealing a wall of misty grey which shrouded the usual panorama. Rivulets of drizzle seeped down her bedroom window, softening the edges. She never grew tired of the view from their apartment. Perhaps it never changed, yet it seemed different every time, an urban kaleidoscope. It was the only redeeming feature about high-rise living, although she’d never known a different life. In her dreams, they lived on huge open lands, with impossible hills and twisting rivers dominating the landscape behind fields filled with an array of animals, stretching as far as the eye could see...

 

 About Joseph J. Dowling:

Joseph always knew he would write seriously one day. That moment arrived in 2020, when his thriving hospitality business was temporarily shuttered. With time on his hands, he quickly fell into an obsession and became a keen student of the craft. 

Since finding the passion, Joseph can't imagine life without stories rattling around his head. Eager to make up for lost time, he's been fairly prolific, and his short stories have appeared in several anthologies and literary magazines. Even better, his rejections are getting nicer by the week.

Joseph lives in London with his wife and their Scotty dog. Mandate: THIRTEEN will be his first published novel. Scroll to the bottom of the page on his website to sign up for his newsletter!

 

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Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a $30 Manta Press Gift Card, International.

1 winner will receive a book poster (pictured below), International.

5 winners will receive a bookmark from this etsy store (pictured below), International.

Ends February 14th, midnight EST.

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