Sunday, March 1, 2020

Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Title: Wanderers
Author: Chuck Wendig
Pages: 782
ISBN: 9781781088104
Publisher: Solaris
Published: 1 June 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


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A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world's last hope.

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

Wanderers is a hefty tome, both in size and subject matter. It’s a grim, prescient read that ebbs and flows with melancholy as the world is ravaged by not one, but two mysterious outbreaks. The first turns people into sleepwalkers. Without warning they become completely unresponsive to outside stimuli and start heading unwaveringly towards an unknown destination. Trying to restrain or impede their progress in any way has dire consequences. The second outbreak is far more deadly, initially manifesting as flu-like symptoms it transitions into madness and ultimately death. It’s the end of the world. Will anyone survive?

Through the lens of a collapsing society plagued by disease Chuck Wendig explores American society in all its messy glory. Throughout the narrative there’s a layer of bigotry, racism, sexism and fanaticism, both political and religious, which acts as the driving force behind the worst of what humanity has to offer. But in all that darkness there’s also hope - while the world falls apart there are still people who show compassion to each other. The shepherds, the families of those making up the flock of sleepwalkers, still care for and protect those they hold dear. Even when they know they will likely not survive they carry on in the belief that the flock will outlast them.

Wendig deftly interweaves so many diverse concepts into the story that you are always left amazed at each new revelation. Nothing is ever quite as it seems. Just as you think you have a handle on everything he drops another bombshell forcing you to reevaluate everything. Both the nature and source of the sleepwalker illness is something far different from what I ever expected.

The characters are engaging and fleshed out. Their vastly different backgrounds make for a very interesting dynamic as their paths converge. Shana Stewart is desperately trying to care for her sister, Nessie, who might just have been the first of the flock. Benjamin Ray, a disgraced CDC doctor tries to uncover the nature of the disease in order to find a cure. Pastor Matthew discovers the limelight, inciting religious fervor at the coming signs of the Apocalypse. And finally Pete Corley an aging rockstar who ran away from his family looking for one last hurrah. While I didn’t care much for some of them, they all have a crucial role to play and there’s a quite poignant redemption arc for one of the characters.

Hell, nobody’s okay,” Dove said. “Maybe we never were, and we damn sure aren’t now. But we’re here. Until we’re not. And that’s all I find it fair to ask for.”

Reading Wanderers is a slow, melancholy experience. It's grim, prescient and impactful in the most unsettling of ways. With news coverage of the Coronavirus outbreak it was a surreal reading experience hitting far too close to home. The ending floored me, driving home a horrific twist I didn’t anticipate and elevating the story to a whole different level.

The Verdict:
Wanderers is a grim, prescient read that ebbs and flows with melancholy and hits far too close to home with the current Coronavirus outbreak. A great apocalyptic read in the most unsettling of ways. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

[Trigger warning: Rape (Chapter 50) ]

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

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