Tuesday, 21 January 2014

book thoughts: the 5th wave by rick yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Genre: Paranormal(/Sci-Fi) YA
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

This post contains spoilers, read at your own risk!

I finished this a week ago and have been trying to let this settle in my mind before reviewing it. What with my recent Hunger Games ~episode~ and the fact that I'm currently reading the Animorphs series for the first time, it's safe to say that I'm having pretty intense war kids feelings at the moment and on the basis of that I really loved the first part of this book. The stories that I get invested in are always the ones which hook me in with their protagonists and proceed to give them narratives which are both interesting and emotional. On the basis of the first 25% of The 5th Wave I genuinely thought I was on to a winner. This section in particular was a real dream:
I might be - no, I probably am - doomed.
But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way.
I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running, not staying, but facing.
Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity.
And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.

It's pretty much everything I wanted from YA at that moment in time: a lady soldier embodying making choices for herself, taking action and then having to deal with the consequences. I would happily have stayed in Cassie's head for a full book.

Unsurprisingly then I was initially sceptical when Ben's POV kicked in. I'm happy to report that he won me over. In line with my war kids interests my interest in him really kicked in once he started his miliary training and I thought that the book was raising some interesting comparisons about stances in war. What it means to be a soldier in terms of being an armed individual in a combat zone versus what it means to be institutionalised as a soldier. The difference between being consumed by emotion as opposed to being devoid of it. The later stages of the book didn't work quite so well for me and I think that can be attributed to the fact that the focus on character development gave way to a (over)complicated plot. There were undoubtedly some interesting character ideas in the later chapters (I especially liked that Cassie questioned why it was that she instinctively trusted Ben after everything she'd seen up until then) but I think it's telling that most of the passages I marked are in the first half of the book.

Ultimately I think my issue was that this book, clearly the first in a series, was trying to do too much. I admire Rick Yancey's ambition but it felt like too much, too soon. It's entirely possible that it's just my war kids myopia talking but I felt that this may have been more satisfying if this first book had simply left the aliens as 'other', if they had remained foreign and unknown. I think I would have preferred a book which was just about Cassie and Ben and their different paths to war and the notions of guilt and trust which accompanied that. The book could have repositioned the climax and built towards Ringer 'going Dorothy' and Cassie beginning to suspect Evan. As it was I felt that the attempts to describe/explain/justify/explore the alien psyche through Evan (and Vosch's monologues) were the weakest points of the novel. I don't hate the idea, actually I'm really interested in exploring the concept of humanity, but it all came too close to the end of the novel so that these huge concepts which are worthy of books of their own felt tacked on. There wasn't enough time to explore the idea of 'alien-ness' fully (demonstrated by the very limited uses of Evan's POV) here - it would perhaps have made more sense to place that all in a sequel and develop that concept more fully.

On the strength of The 5th Wave's first half I'll definitely check out the sequel when it's released but I worry that it, like a lot of teen TV shows (I'm looking at you The Vampire Diaries!) may have put too much on the table too soon and will end up relying on over-convoluted plot to pad out the pages.

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