The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey was released with a tremendous amount of hype. For months you couldn’t visit book blogs or YouTube without spotting it in book hauls or seeing rave reviews. It was billed as the ‘most anticipated YA novel of the year’, the ‘Next Big Thing’, the ‘next Hunger Games’... Those are tough shoes to fill and while I’m sure all the marketing led to increased sales, it also makes it incredibly difficult for the novel to live up to the hype and expectations. Hype is a two-sided sword.
I wanted to love The 5th Wave, I really did. The premise was brilliant, the grim, unsettling post-apocalyptic world made for a great setting and all the characters were memorable and engaging, but something felt wrong. Initially I couldn’t quite figure out what the problem was and then it hit me, things felt too contrived. It was as if Yancey knew exactly where the story had to go, and forced the characters and events to conform to that idea even if it didn’t really make sense or feel like a natural turn of events. By their very nature every novel is contrived, but when it’s done right you never notice it. The characters, their choices and the world they inhabit needs to feel natural; it has to have consistency and more importantly it has to make sense. And that’s where The 5th Wave falters. Behind the veneer of a brilliant, fast-paced story lurks a world full of logical inconsistencies. Once you spot them you can’t help chipping away, noticing more and more as the story progresses. It’s like a bad magic show where the sleight-of-hand is just slow enough to follow and where you can spot the squirming dove long before it’s eventually released.
The main protagonist Cassie is a feisty, snarky, independent sixteen-year-old girl who has lost most of her family. She’s caught in a desperate struggle to survive while trying to find her little brother. She can’t afford to trust anyone since the aliens are masquerading as humans, yet when she meets Evan Walker, a saviour appearing seemingly at random, she fawns over him throwing all caution to the wind in what must be one of the most awkward insta-love romances I’ve come across. What happened to the tough Cassie that could look after herself? The Cassie who killed someone when she didn’t know what he was reaching for? It seems a romantic relationship is a prerequisite for every YA novel so it had to be added, despite the fact that it goes against everything you would expect from the character, diminishing them in the process. Heck, towards the end there’s even foreshadowing for a possible love triangle. Another one of those required YA tropes.
It was at this point that I lost all respect for Cassie. Luckily Zombie and his squad of misfit soldiers kept things interesting enough to keep going. It’s telling when you care far more about the secondary characters than the main protagonist.
My biggest problem with The 5th Wave is that the aliens seem to be complete idiots. Explaining why would involve spoilers, so I’ll elaborate more in a separate section after the verdict and rating.
The plot has some interesting twists and turns, but most of them where predictable and didn’t come as much of a surprise. The ending is satisfying, but quite abrupt and it’s clear that this is the first novel in a trilogy. Despite all the issues I’ve had with the novel I’d be interested to see where Yancey goes next. Hopefully it can only get better.
The 5th Wave has a great premise, good writing, and memorable characters but it ultimately disappoints by sticking to YA tropes. The plot is full of logical inconsistencies and after a brilliant start the actions of the Others just doesn't make much sense aside from being what the story demanded to happen. If you are new to sci-fi this might satisfy, but people more familiar with the genre will find the inconsistencies irksome. The 5th Wave is still an enjoyable read, but it could have been so much better if Yancey took more care in developing the aliens and their motives.
The Rating: 5.5 (Average to Good)
I picked up lots of inconsistencies in the 5th Wave, most of these are things that just didn’t make much sense. Then again I might be too old and jaded to enjoy YA.
Why is Cassie not allowed on the bus? When the army comes to collect the children from camp Ashpit they only take Sammy. Cassie is sixteen (p 79) and Zombie, Ben Parish, is seventeen (p 105). They allow Ben to join Camp Haven even though he is infected with the disease and a year older than Cassie. It can’t be her age or gender since other girls are allowed in Camp Haven. Being healthy Cassie would be a much better prospect for recruitment.
The 5th Wave makes no sense. The actual wave, not the novel. Why would the aliens take all the time and effort to indoctrinate and train children so they can go out and hunt their fellow humans? The drones and Silencers would be far more efficient and take much less time. Not to mention that it wouldn’t allow for a newly trained human army to rise up against you.
The aliens are pure consciousness. Why would they need to take over the planet?
We haven’t had bodies in tens of thousands of years... We are pure consciousness (p 369)They don’t need food or other resources so what is the whole purpose of the invasion?
The aliens put a mission critical base within easy reach.
"Wright-Patterson isn’t just any base – it’s the base... Vosch isn’t any commander – he’s the commander, the leader of all field operations and the architect of the cleansing” (p 365)Humanity doesn’t have any space capability left, so instead of running things from the safety of your mothership where nothing could harm you, you decide to move your base of operations to a far more vulnerable location on Earth. Not only do you have that base act as the controlling hub for all your drones, you also stock it with some of your most advanced explosives. Nothing could ever go wrong with that plan...
What happens when all the humans are killed?
“There aren’t that many of us, only a few hundred thousand... They saw pretending to be human as beneath them.” (p 372)What will they do once they win? They don’t have bodies so how will they inhabit the Earth when all the humans are killed?
“We’ve been watching you for six thousand years.” (p 435)They’ve been watching humanity for thousands of years. Why not eradicate primitive man when there are far fewer of us, we don’t have any technology to fight back with and we haven’t had a chance to devastate the environment. Why wait till it becomes more difficult to eradicate us?
If you've read The 5th Wave I'd love to hear what you thought. Feel free to leave a comment below.