Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

10/10 An epic, sprawling, dystopian page-turner, chock full of great characters and fascinating ideas

Humankind was a disease. 
The earth was the body. 
Climate change was the fever.

I finished Wanderers a couple of weeks ago but paused a while before writing this review, allowing myself to take more time to fully evaluate the reading experience. Oftentimes, I find, you can gain a more accurate - and more balanced - view of a book you’ve just read after a period of contemplation.

I’m pleased to say that both my experience at the time, which still remains looking back on it a short time later, is an overwhelmingly positive one. I enjoyed Wanderers immensely, I found it to be just my type of book: a book that is unapologetically influenced by Stephen King’s The Stand, and a book which excelled in providing me, the reader, with what I was looking for: an epic, sprawling, dystopian page-turner, chock full of great characters and fascinating ideas, constantly provoking a need to understand what was going on in this world where civilisation was crumbling.

As the book begins we are introduced to Shana, a girl who 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. And 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. They 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.  

Chuck Wendig’s 2019 book is very pertinent to the times, with its themes of pandemic and social collapse. It is a cleverly written, thought-provoking epic with immense appeal. The cast is diverse, significant and varied, all are interesting and provided with a backstory which makes them both interesting and deserving of empathy. None of the characters are too perfect, or too imperfect, they are very real.

One of the biggest compliments I can give this book is that I was always eager to pick it up, to once again join the journey of the sleepwalkers and their loyal, protective shepherds in the hope of learning what the hell was actually going on in this world. It is undoubtedly gripping, a real page-turner.

The story’s themes also cover climate change and global warming plus the real fear of biowarfare and the possibility that a virus (whether man made or not) could wipe out human existence. It also looks at the battle between the left and right in US politics, looking at far right extremism in particular while also managing to get across all that can be putrid about social media, and that it is often a disgusting platform: with platform being a very accurate description for what many use it as to propagate their hatred and bile.

A science fiction highlight for me was Black Swan, a super AI computer reminiscent of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and GERTY from Moon. Has it become aware? Are its intentions neutral, or malignant, or benign? These AI explorations have, and will always fascinate me. A thought provoking aspect the narrative covers is the danger of dementia, where its sufferers are also heavily armed. This was just one more fear to add to a rather already large list.

I am very hesitant to offer any negative thoughts about this book because I enjoyed it so much. However, in the interest of a fair and balanced review I will mention that I found the dialogue of the teenagers, especially Shana, to feel slightly off. I accept that a) I am British and b) my teenage years are long behind me, but the teenagers did not feel authentic to me. Here is a sample of Shana’s dialogue: ”I know I know I know I’m only a teenager, Dad reminds me like, every day, and my sister reminds me that I’m still young, and I don’t care.” I got the feeling that adding ‘like’ frequently into the dialogue made it “teenagery”. Who knows? Maybe it is completely accurate, but it didn’t feel so to me. Always happy to be wrong when it comes to criticism though. I also found the romance between Shana and Arav to be a little corny, I could’ve done without it. I feel peculiar about voicing the two negatives above, but I wanted to be honest. Every book has a reader wishing for things that were a little different and these two areas were mine. They did not, in any way, stop the reading experience from being anything but epically entertaining.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Wanderers to fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopian books. If, like me, The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song are all-time favourites then you can get ready to add another one to that list.

“Wanderers is wonderful - a suspenseful, twisty, satisfying, surprising, thought-provoking epic of a novel. Chuck Wendig has taken his considerable talents to the next level. Dig in”  Harlan Coben

"With Wanderers, Chuck Wendig levels up - and when you consider the high level he was already writing at, that's saying something" John Scalzi

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