- Chuck Wendig.
- 800 pages.
- Post-apocalyptic / Thriller / Horror.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. From the mind of Chuck Wendig comes an astonishing tapestry of humanity that Harlan Coben calls “a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic.”
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.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
A day after a comet passes close to the Earth, Nessie Stewart, a teenage girl in a small and sleepy Pennsylvania town leaves her family house and starts walking. Nessie is the first sleepwalker but soon, more join her and what starts with one along the miles becomes many.
Black Swan, an advanced A.I, a sentient machine intelligence that can detect possible outbreaks of disease, epidemics, pandemics and disasters has detected the mysterious outbreak and has specifically asked for Benji Ray. Benji is a disgraced doctor, scientist and investigator with the CDC but, according to Black Swan, he is also the best hope of solving the mystery of the strange occurrence that is the sleepwalking phenomenon.
As more and more sleepwalkers join the initial few turns into a massive flock hundreds-strong who are all steadily walking with a purpose in the same cross-country direction with more joining the ranks daily. The image that sprang to my mind when envisaging the flock of sleepwalkers was that of the hordes of shuffling zombies that you see in The Walking Dead. In fact, the sleepwalkers have many of the same traits as a zombie. But, unlike zombies, they are still alive just shut down and locked inside their own body and mind. The sleepwalkers stare straight ahead through vacant and empty eyes, they don’t need nourishment or sustenance, they need no food, no drink and no rest, they don’t stop to sleep, they simply don’t stop and relentlessly move forward, silently walking onwards towards their unknown destination. They also have a defence mechanism, if you obstruct them, stop them or try to alter their direction then they start to burn up, gradually getting hotter and hotter before exploding. The flock as they are termed have ‘shepherds‘, the friends and family members of those afflicted who either walk alongside or drive along with the flock looking out for and protecting the sleepwalkers from danger and from those who mean them harm. Also following in their wake are state troopers, Homeland Security and the CDC and their mobile lab.
Fear of the sleepwalkers is rife, they are different, they are unknown and people fear the unknown. As the flock continues to grow there are other things lurking in the shadows too, unseen threats to society that are slowly simmering before boiling over. As the walkers keep on walking the US starts coming undone, disintegrating around them and bringing about the dawning of the end of days.
There is a huge cast of diverse main, secondary and supporting characters in Wanderers featuring the good, the bad and the in-between. You see decent, honest and ordinary people from all walks of life, backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. Those who are good, helpful, selfless, who put others before themselves and who have kindness within them. Then, you have the opposite, the dark to the light, the storm clouds to the clear blue skies. Those with a darker nature, a poisoned soul and who have an evil lurking inside of them. With 800 pages to play with there is tremendous depth to the characterisation by Wendig and he has created a cast of characters that are all important to the story, who all add something to the story and who all come across as real people each with their own agendas, beliefs, fallacies, feelings, flaws, history, lives and motivations.
The depth of characterisation is highly impressive. Some of those with the main roles in the story are Jerry Garlin, one of the richest men in the US, heir to the Garlin Amusement and Entertainment Empire. Pastor of God’s Light, Matthew Bird who stokes the flames against the walkers through rhetoric and dogma. Ozark Stover, a radical and right-wing supremacist. Marcy Reyes, a brain-damaged former police officer, who can see a glow emanating from within the walkers that acts as a soothing presence to her damaged brain and body. Pete Corley, a narcissistic, self-centred and ageing rock star who runs away from everything. Sadie Emeka, Benji’s boss. Arav, a young CDC worker. Benji Ray, the dishonoured former CDC investigator and Shana Stewart, Nessie’s older sister and the first shepherd.
Most of the pages in Wanderers are given over to following the flock of sleepwalkers but all elements of the story are given enough time to shine. For the sleepwalkers themselves and the mystery surrounding them you have questions, amongst them, will a cure be found? What is there destination? What is their purpose? Will they ever wake? And, why were they chosen? Quite simply, you keep turning the pages to find out the answers as you are utterly gripped by the characters, by the story and by the desire to find out the truth about the sleepwalkers.
There are many topical themes included in Wanderers that are relevant to the current state of the world. Including, far-right groups that are on the rise, gun culture, our reliance on ever-advancing technology, our infatuation with social media, fake news, climate change, global warming, racism, religion and politics. In particular US politics, there is a presidential election ongoing in Wanderers and even as someone from the UK it is easy to see the current state of the US political scene and those in charge mirrored in the political characters that Wendig has created.
When you have a beast of a post-apocalyptic book in your hands you can’t help but think of Swan Song by Robert McCammon and The Stand (amongst other pop culture references included there is even a mention of The Stand, a nod and a tip of the hat to the great book) by Stephen King, two weighty tomes that are synonymous with the genre. Wanderers deserves to take its place beside them both as a modern sibling to the two classics. But, unlike those two books Wanderers isn’t about a battle between the supernatural forces of good vs evil and there is no outside interference pulling the strings, twisting and manipulating the will of men and women. Instead, Wanderers delves into the good and the evil that lives within us all, that is part of our everyday culture, of our society and of our lives with the best of humanity on display and the worst.
Wanderers is epic in both scope and scale, a breathtaking and powerful canvas that is revealed over the course of its near 800 gripping pages. Yes, a brick of a book, a behemoth at nearly 800 pages but Wanderers never feels its length, nothing feels like filler, like padding simply to up the page count and you don’t get bogged down or feel like you are wading through treacle. The writing is descriptive and strong and the short chapters that swap between the different facets of the story, the various characters and their perspectives keep the story moving forward. I found myself hooked from the beginning until the very end utterly absorbed as the story unfolded and as the world unravelled around the sleepwalkers. It is brutal, emotional, grim, harrowing, hugely relevant to today’s society, entertaining as hell and a mammoth dose of heavyweight page-turning brilliance.
Purchase Wanderers by Chuck Wendig.
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