CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 8. . . October 27, 2017
In a setup similar to The Fifth Wave (Rick Yancey), a group of teens are stranded at a camp in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in the wake of an alien invasion. The Nahx are ruthless, shooting everyone in their path with dart guns, the humans left perfectly preserved, metallic tears rolling down their cheeks. When Raven, one of the teens at the camp, and some of the others go out to find a missing boy, they find him slumped against a tree with the all-too-disturbing metallic tears leaking from his eyes. Raven and the others decide there’s no time like the present to finally break camp and try their odds on the road out of the mountains. On the way, while avoiding Nahx seemingly around every turn, they end up being found by a large group of escapees led by a mix of civilians and military personnel. While out on a search one day, Raven is tracked and almost killed by a group of Nahx, only to be rescued, not by her peers, but another Nahx who seems to be different than the others: he doesn’t seem to want to kill her. Following her kidnapping, Raven and the Nahx, whom she names August, slowly come to understand one another and eventually work to get Raven back to her friends. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned in an apocalyptic alien invasion.
Raven’s narrative is primary though it alternates with August/Eighth’s narrative, giving readers a glimpse into the Nahx’s thoughts (though they are mostly pages of self-hating internal monologue.) In the first part of the novel, the two only meet a few times. The first time, Eighth allows Raven and others to escape down a river, and, in another instance, he knocks her out rather than killing her, and leaves her near a fire for her friends to find her. The final meeting of the two in this first part leads to them spending a good third of the book together in an abandoned penthouse as she heals from the wounds inflicted on her by other Nahx.
The world that Prendergast builds is complex, mirroring reality, but with an apocalyptic twist, you know, because of the aliens and bombings and stuff. It’s certainly a Calgary that I’ve never experienced. In any case, the world building is solid, and so are the primary characters, at least as far as Raven and Eighth/August are concerned. Secondary characters, such as Liam, Topher, and Emily, leave something to be desired as they tend to flip emotional switches from love to hate in mere moments. This is not to say that emotions wouldn’t be running high in such a situation, but the underlying motivations were not explored as much as I would have hoped.
The one aspect of the novel that bothered me quite a bit was the relationship between Raven and August. Again, I understand the tumultuous emotional landscape that Prendergast is exploring in this post-alien-invasion world, but this particular relationship seemed to very closely mirror an abusive one. The two are enemies, so it is no surprise that August attempts to subdue Raven in various ways, or that Raven attempts to escape. But what seems like an attempt to build a slow romance between the captor and the captive instead feels more like Stockholm syndrome. And even after they realize their feelings for each other (which on both sides feels fast and a bit contrived), the violent interactions continue, with Raven seeming to come to the conclusion that they’re just something she has to endure (hence the similarity to domestic abuse situations.) What makes the situation disturbing beyond these facts is that August is given the alternating first-person narratives throughout the novel, which will likely lead to empathy rather than criticism, particularly once it is learned that he was also abused by his superior previously. My worry is that there is not much critique of this dynamic in the novel which may come across to some readers as an endorsement of their particular type of relationship.
Prendergast is very talented, and her style is worth noting, even though this novel is not in verse as a number of her previous works have been. I also truly appreciated the allusions to Edgar Allan Poe throughout the book, including (and it’s a fun twist) the title of the novel itself!
I was drawn into the first part of the novel, and the third part, with its revelations and twists has me wanting more from the next novel. What disappointed me was the second part of the novel for the reasons noted above. The attempt at a romance between enemies felt too forced to me, considering the first novel is laying out the groundwork for all of the events to come. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and the “humanity” of August/Eighth actually really hit me, emotionally. Raven, as well, is a very complicated and intriguing character, and I want to know more about what will happen to her in future installments.
Sci-fi fans, and fans of The Fifth Wave will find much to love here, though I do caution teachers and librarians to take note of the domestic abuse scenario mirrored in the second portion of the novel when recommending the novel to teen readers.
Recommended with Reservations.
Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature, but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.
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This Creative Commons license allows you to download the review and share it with others as long as you credit the CM Association. You cannot change the review in any way or use it commercially.
Commercial use is available through a contract with the CM Association. This Creative Commons license allows publishers whose works are being reviewed to download and share said CM reviews provided you credit the CM Association.