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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“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.
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
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!
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.