Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Solaris | 2019 (11 July) | 800p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Wanderers by Chuck WendigOn 3 June, in the small rural town of Maker’s Bell in Pennsylvania, fifteen-year-old Nessie gets out of bed, leaves her home and starts to walk. Shana soon tracks her little sister down but nothing she does can wake Nessie up. Then their father joins them. If they try and restrain Nessie she becomes agitated and dangerously, frighteningly distressed but still she doesn’t wake. Nessie is the first of the sleepwalkers, soon she is joined by others. They stop for nothing – they don’t rest, they don’t eat, they just walk. They are the Flock, watched over by their worried friends and loved ones, the Shepherds, who walk alongside them – a growing community on the move. But where are they going? And why?

Benji Ray is just one of the scientists and doctors trying to find out the answers. He used to work for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), fighting ebola, until he was fired. But now he has been selected by Black Swan, an AI of sorts, developed by Benex-Voyager to help tackle disease by predicting its behaviour; to watch new diseases hop from species to species in a series of events that Black Swan can foresee. And it wants Benji.

Others, too, are drawn to the walkers; some see them as angels, others as demons. Society can’t cope with the walkers. It can’t understand them. Order starts to collapse. It is a time for evil men to thrive, especially those who say they are servants of God. And all the time the Flock walks resolutely on, completely unaware of the growing danger around them.

Wanderers is one of those rare novels that becomes such a part of your life when you read it that you feel different for it. It’s 800 pages long and not a page is wasted. I wanted to read it as soon as I heard about it and I bought and started it on the day it was published. I was lucky to find a limited signed and numbered first edition! It’s a beautiful hardback, which is also physically so easy to read – each page feels like it’s been given room to breathe. I loved it very much. I looked forward to reading it in every free moment I had and I was so sorry to finish it.

There is so much to Wanderers. It contains so many lives and their stories. Chuck Wendig is to be applauded for the sheer quality of the writing, for the complex, multi-layered plot, and for the range of characters that we meet and spend time with. Comparisons have been made to The Stand, and there are similarities but, personally, I think Wanderers is the better book. And that’s saying something because The Stand is one of my favourite books. As too now is Wanderers.

Wanderers is a sophisticated blend of genres, including horror and science fiction. It is also a literary, character-driven journey across America. It’s also an apocalyptic tale of disaster. We see people at their worst and at their best. Dark themes are explored – one scene in particular is pretty shocking. But what I take from it is the sheer wonder of its storytelling and the love I feel for so many of its characters. We see examples of different kinds of families, of loners (how I loved Marcy and Pete), the innocent and the guilty.

Wanderers has a fantastic premise that it more than lives up to from start to finish. There’s a timeliness about its story and its warning, politically, socially and environmentally. The nature of the book’s horror evolves through the novel. It changes and is genuinely frightening.

What drives it on, though, is the fantastic mystery at its heart. Where are the walkers going? What will happen when they get there? On so many levels Wanderer succeeds. It’s a significant novel. But it’s also thrilling, horrifying, emotional, engrossing and is an absolute joy to read.

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