Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

Plot: The first wave: lights out. The second wave: surf's up. The third wave: pestilence. The fourth wave: Silencer. Now the fifth wave dawns, and Cassie is alone on an empty stretch of highway, running from the Others. She has long since learned the lesson: trust no one, because They look human. But she might be the only real human left.

First Line: "Aliens are stupid." This line really doesn't start you off on the right track for the rest of the book. I was unimpressed.

Comments: Before I begin, I should mention that I read an advance reader copy of The Fifth Wave, and therefore there may be changes between what I read and the final copy. I'm guessing there won't be any major plot shifts or complete chapter overhauls, though, so for the most part this review should be accurate.

I wasn't immediately engrossed in this book. The more I read, though, the more I liked it, and by the end I was pretty captivated. I'd recommend you give it a chance through the first several chapters.

One thing I didn't like was the author's way of introducing facts and then taking them back. The book is a first-person point of view, and while I wouldn't call the narrator unreliable, I began to find it difficult to trust what they said - they would state a fact and then immediately backpedal and clarify a totally different meaning. For example, the first lines: "Aliens are stupid. I'm not talking about real aliens. The Others aren't stupid. ... No, I'm talking about the aliens inside our own heads." Now, this tactic is fine, but it got on my nerves when it happened again and again. I would accept the narrator's statement as fact (you have to, with a post-apocalyptic setting, if you're ever going to understand what this unfamiliar world is like) only to discover that it wasn't true. It just got annoying.

Another aspect I didn't like was that the point of view changed without warning. The book starts off from Cassie's perspective, and based on this and the plot synopsis, I expected it to stay that way. When the narrator switched part way through, it wasn't obvious until several pages later, by which time I was completely confused. The book continued to hop perspectives periodically without ever mentioning who was the new narrator. Now, that said, it was effective to watch the plot unfold from several different places. That added a depth of understanding to the whole situation.

Next: the characters. Like the book in general, I grew to like the characters more as I continued to read. Cassie was tough, but also realistically imperfect in terms of survival skills and stoicism. I couldn't really decide how I felt about Evan, which was fitting given Cassie's similar inability to understand his motives. Zombie was a bit of a flat character, I felt, lacking a consistent purpose beyond what the plot needed at a given time, and Ringer was total cardboard. Sammy was just a convenient plot piece, but maybe his age prevented him from being a particularly well-rounded character. Many minor characters were given a few characteristics and stuck to them.

The plot itself was interesting and constantly shifting. Just like the characters, the reader isn't ever completely certain of what's really going on - just when you finally figure something out, a new detail emerges and plunges you back into uncertainty. This effectively gives the reader an idea of what the characters are feeling as they struggle to make the right choices in a disorienting, deadly world. This is partly why I kept reading: I wanted to know the truth.

As the book progressed, I enjoyed the bits of amusement scattered in with the harsh reality and graphic violence. Sarcastic comments and black humor lightened the mood and prevented the book from being totally depressing. Did I mention the mass deaths, the constant tragedy, the child soldiers? No? Well, I am now. The book is about survival, and survival isn't pretty. It often comes down to you or them, and the characters have to live with their decisions. It's grim.

Of course, the book ended abruptly right after the climax (why does there always have to be a sequel?). It's not exactly a cliffhanger, but neither are you left with all your questions answered. It's a mild annoyance.

Rating: I rate The Fifth Wave an eight out of ten. It was a good read, exciting and fast-paced, and it explored the idea of humanity and what we're willing to do to survive.

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