Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Del Rey, July 2019
Blurb: A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. In the tradition of The Stand and Station Eleven comes a gripping saga that weaves an epic tapestry of humanity into an astonishing tale of survival.
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 are 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.
**Minor spoilers do abound in this review (sorry, I couldn’t help it), so please read with caution and peril**
I don’t think this review will ever do this novel justice, so I’ll come out front and say this, first: this is nothing less than a five star read, because holy shit.
So, I wanted to read this novel for two reasons: one, I fucking love Chuck Wendig’s blog and I wanted to support him. Two: it was comped with The Stand, a novel that completely terrified me and had me nervous to the core anytime I coughed for months after finishing it. I was looking for another novel to scare me in that way–not in the traditional horror sense (I usually don’t do well with horror), but in the apocalyptic, mass-epidemic sense.
Wanderers did that…in a way. It didn’t have the same shock value that The Stand did for me and I wasn’t nearly as terrified by the epidemic itself, though the fact that it was so widespread and so deadly was bloody terrifying. And yes, I’ve still had a lingering cough since I’ve read it and bats do live in my backyard and why are you looking at me like that? It’s fine, I’m fine, we’re all very much fine.
*coughs and then sneezes*
So yes, the epidemic scared me.
But it terrified me in ways much worse.
Maybe I live under a rock, maybe I’m just foolish and didn’t realize it would be so…poignant in the ways that it was, but the way Wanderers hit home on all the political bullshit we’re going through right now was…really hard to read, honestly. Don’t get me wrong, I fucking loved this book. I found myself choosing to not dive back into my PS4 in order to read more of this book and if that isn’t the biggest compliment I can give, honestly.
But I read to escape…*gestures widely at the political dumpster fire that is America* because it’s draining to live in a country where your president is a lying racist who is also a rapist and white supremacist and you’re constantly combating your own depression in trying to hold onto the idea that love and goodness and common decency and hope might still win the day, in the end.
So, to read the modern day horrors depicted so viscerally in this novel was a bit of a struggle, for me, but yet I couldn’t help but become engrossed? Like, Wendig’s writing? The voice? Holy shit, I mean, we’re talking master level stuff, here. The pacing? Incredible. The interweaving of POV within chapters, the inclusion of the interludes, the way information was revealed? Impeccable, flawless. White Mask?
*glances out back window where the bats live*
It’s fine. Truly.
*nervous laughter echoes for eternity*
I mean, this was just an incredible story. It was scary both in it’s real world roots and how the reality of this story could…well, very well be a reality we experience in our own lives, in many ways. It never felt like the massive unit that this book is (honestly, I swear I can deadlift so much more now after carrying this book around with me everywhere for a week) because it was just so easy to get lost within and suddenly, you’ve read over 100 pages and it’s time to go back to your actual reality, but you don’t want to, not really.
It really sticks with you. I dreamt of the sleepwalkers every night while I was reading and, when I was driving through the country to go visit my family in the middle of nowhere, Kansas, I found myself glancing out the window for them, to make sure I didn’t accidentally run one over when so much depends on them. And I did this for half of the hour drive before I realized that, hey, um, hello, this is happening in the novel you have perched up in the passenger seat beside you, ma’am. Not out here.
I mean, that’s how real this story felt.
My favorite aspect, though, I think?
Wendig doesn’t pull punches.
There are aspects of this novel that made me cringe, that made my stomach tie into knots and wish that scene didn’t happen or that character didn’t do that or humanity wouldn’t truly be a world that inhibits those kinds of responses, those kinds of beliefs. The ending, especially. I thought it was going to go one way, because surely he wouldn’t do SPOILER. But he did and I appreciated how he wasn’t afraid to show us a gritty and grim reality that, by the blessing of all the old gods and the new, still managed to make you feel hopeful, at the end?
Fucking terrifying still, surely.
But more hopeful that I felt going into it, definitely.
It’s an incredible novel. If you’re a fan of Wendig, you already know that, I bet. If you’re not, well…I don’t think this is a bad place to start.