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Book: “Wayward” by Chuck Wendig
Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, November 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound
Book Description: Five years ago, ordinary Americans fell under the grip of a strange new malady that caused them to sleepwalk across the country to a destination only they knew. They were followed on their quest by the shepherds: friends and family who gave up everything to protect them.
Their secret destination: Ouray, a small town in Colorado that would become one of the last outposts of civilization. Because the sleepwalking epidemic was only the first in a chain of events that led to the end of the world–and the birth of a new one. The survivors, sleepwalkers and shepherds alike, have a dream of rebuilding human society. Among them are Benji, the scientist struggling through grief to lead the town; Marcy, the former police officer who wants only to look after the people she loves; and Shana, the teenage girl who became the first shepherd–and an unlikely hero whose courage will be needed again.
Because the people of Ouray are not the only survivors, and the world they are building is fragile. The forces of cruelty and brutality are amassing under the leadership of self-proclaimed president Ed Creel. And in the very heart of Ouray, the most powerful survivor of all is plotting its own vision for the new world: Black Swan, the A.I. who imagined the apocalypse.
Against these threats, Benji, Marcy, Shana, and the rest have only one hope: one another. Because the only way to survive the end of the world is together.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
So, when I was reading “Wanderers” back in 2019 I felt a mild anxiety that I was constantly trying to write off. ‘A deadly pandemic? Eh, that’s not something you need to be worrying about, Kate. No way.’
Little did I realize that a year later it would be a reality that was consuming so many of us. Luckily it wasn’t a White Mask level of death, though that doesn’t mean it’s been a cake walk by ANY means. But, now it’s 2022, and while we are still in the midst of this life changing pandemic with death and sickness, I feel more secure than I did two years ago, or even one year ago (thank you, under 5 vaccines and lots and lots of therapy!). So much so that I could actually pick up “Wayward”, Chuck Wendig’s sequel to the pandemic end of world thriller/sci-fi/dystopia “Wanderers”. You probably remember how I couldn’t bring myself to read books about sickness and the world ending for awhile. I guess the fact I read “Wayward” shows how far I’ve come. Though now the worry is that it’s predicting a whole other society altering reality, with it’s huge themes of Christo-fascism and white supremacist violence…. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dive in.
“Wayward” picks up shortly after “Wanderers” ends, and five years after the White Mask pandemic has wiped out a huge majority of the world population. The surviving ‘Sleepwalkers’ and ‘Shepherds’ are living in the isolated Colorado town of Ouray, where the seemingly benevolent (but actually dangerous) Black Swan AI is continuously running and trying to create a new world. There are familiar faces like Benji, the former scientist who is now a well respected town leader, and Shana, the first ‘shepherd’ who is now pregnant with the first child to be born in the community (who was in stasis for five years like the sleepwalkers were). At the end of “Wanderers” there were hints that this perfect rebuilding community was actually on a precipice, and we get to see that play out as Wendig tinkers with ideas of dangerous AI, and groupthink that can lead to cultlike behavior, unrest, and power grabs. I liked how Wendig did some full exploration of this, because the community that was being envisioned at the end of “Wanderers” felt a little too pat. I also liked revisiting Benji, Shana, et al, because I had forgotten how much I liked them and I liked seeing how they had all changed from the first book up through this book. The changes are believable both as to how they would change due to their circumstances, but also as to how they as characters would have changed with their base personalities in mind. Shana in “Wanderers” is pretty different from Shana in “Wayward”, but she is still Shana, and so forth, and it is clear that Wendig knows his cast inside and out. It is their inherent complexity and goodness that keeps this book from treading too bleak.
Though that isn’t to say that it isn’t bleak at times. Oh soothsayer Chuck Wendig, I must say that I’m a bit on edge that you have put another horrible thing out into the universe, given what happened last time! And that is the theme of Christ-fascist authoritarian groups trying to wipe out those they deem inferior against the backdrop of the end of society. Though I don’t think we spent too much time with white supremacist and totalitarian would be president Ed Creel in “Wanderers”, he has his own perspective chapters in “Wayward”, and good God we are once again getting into too real territory. Creel is a clear Donald Trump analog, but obvious or not it doesn’t make him any less terrifying as he continues to amass a white supremacist and violent following to do his bidding even as he bides his time in an underground bunker for the uberwealthy. “Wanderers” came out during the Trump Presidency when we were seeing these groups like the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers and literal Neo-Nazis sing his praises, and now “Wayward” puts new focus on this in a post January 6 world. It’s all a bit on the nose at times, but that doesn’t make it any less resonant. Sure, the AI run amok themes were also scary, but that was more on the Sci-Fi side of things so it didn’t catch my anxiety as much as this all did. Maybe give it a few years.
But what I love about Wendig’s voice is that even through all this violence, trauma, sadness, and raw devastation, there is always hope. Hope through humor. Hope through love between family and friends. Hope that some places can get through a terrible thing like White Mask through their effort and community strength (I loved the idea of different parts of the world faring better based on factors ranging from environment to cultural aspects). Hope that no matter how bad things get, they can be addressed and salvaged. It’s hard to remember that hope is there, at times. But Wendig reminds us throughout the narrative, and I really liked that.
“Wayward” is a solid follow up to an end of world story that looks at what could come next. Wendig taps into a lot of modern anxieties and fears, but he also knows how to keep the reader hopeful. We need that sometimes.
Rating 8: A melancholy and suspenseful but ultimately hopeful follow up to an apocalypse book that now feels a bit too real, “Wayward” brings us back to Ouray and examines what happens after the world as we know it ends.
“Wayward” is included on the Goodreads list “Hugo 2023 Eligible Novels”.