Those of you who have heard me say ‘I don’t really read much sci-fi or fantasy’ probably have a hard time believing me given the number of speculative books I’ve reviewed recently. The truth is I LOVE a well told fantasy or sci-fi novel, I’m just EXTREMELY picky about what I read. The Fifth Wave is is one of better ones. If you’re looking for a fast-paced survival story with a touch of sci-fi, this should be your go-to summer read (in addition to Summer Days, Starry Nights of course).
Despite being a standalone book, The Fifth Wave has the scope, range of characters, and the same taught tension as Justin Cronin’s best-selling The Passage. We are introduced to Cassie, sixteen, paranoid and alone, hiding from an unknown alien foe in the woods. Cassie tells us about the previous waves of invasion and how quickly earth’s population has been decimated in a matter of months. Next we meet Ben, a schoolmate of Cassie’s who has been recruited by a covert military operation who are training children to become ultimate alien-killing machines, a la Ender’s Game.
The teens in this novel are up against some pretty serious odds. Parts of the book are vivid and brutal, including Cassie coming upon a dying soldier in an abandoned convenience store, and scenes of cruelty involving a rather sadistic commander and his child soldiers. It’s not gratuitous and helps build up the characters of Ben and Cassie, but it may be hard for some younger readers to stomach.
The strongest part of the novel is how plausible it all felt. I like my sci-fi near-fetched, as opposed to far-fetched. Rick Yancey‘s ‘waves’ of invasion feel frighteningly possible: power outage, natural disasters, viral outbreak, etc. I don’t want to give too much away because the joy of reading this novel is having it unravel as you get deeper into the story. There is a moment when Cassie, who is the character we spend the most time with and grow the closes too, mentions her few possessions, one of which is a box of tampons. YES. Even when on the run from unseen alien invaders, a girl needs tampons. I wish more survival novels acknowledged the necessities of life.
At times The Fifth Wave dips into melodrama in the form of some teen angst and relationships, but I appreciated how Yancey acknowledges that even in the middle of an apocalypse, teens are going to have feelings, much like the teen angst that rears its head in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Overall I could not get enough of this well-paced, suspenseful read. Yancey is an accomplished storyteller who reels you in from the very beginning. This book feels tailor-made for adaptation, perhaps as a miniseries. This is one of those rare books that appeals to both male and female readers, and fans of The Passage, Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games and well-told survival narratives with eat this one up.
The Fifth Wave will be available from Penguin Canada on May 7th.