by Rick Yancey
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.
The story is pretty straightforward – we have aliens invade Earth. But then the usual Hollywood scenario is turned on its head. They don’t attack in hordes, shooting laser guns or anything similar, they are far more calculating and efficient in their plans for world domination. I loved this twist – it made so much sense. Beings capable of space travel would know how to preserve their numbers in an invasion.
The 1st wave takes out all electronics; that means no cars, no TV or radio, no electrical lights… crippling modern societies considerably. Although I wonder what happened to all diesel engines – those run without electricity, plain pressure sparking the reaction moving the bats. And nuclear plants – it’s kind of a big problem if people can’t control nuclear plants anymore and you try to take over with limited damage to the planet. Well, I could argue that is covered with later reveals in the books, but it bugged the hell out of me at first. Perhaps I’ve got an issue with nuclear plant safety. (Who doesn’t after the disasters we’ve seen?)
It doesn’t take long for society to break apart piece by piece after the first shock. Then the 2nd wave hits the planet. Coastal regions are swept away by tsunamis caused by aliens agitating key points on tectonic plates. Kudos for the effective use of natural laws – it surprised me but made so much sense.
The next phase hits scared survivors in the camps and inland towns with brutal efficiency. Birds, animals that live everywhere on the planet and who survived the best, carry a new infectious disease with high mortality rates directly to the people. Extremely few survive it, reminding readers of the usual zombie apocalypse scenarios. Chilling and horrifying at the same time.
The 4th wave are the silencers, lone shooters picking off the scattered and scared survivors. Not that they need to do much since people stopped trusting each other long ago and are more likely to kill everyone on sight than extend a hand in help. It’s the consequence of the continuous shocks and a natural survival instinct working against humanity now.
The 5th wave starts and I knew right away that we’d get to see aliens taking direct action now. The numbers of survivors are very low, making large attacks ineffective, and people have also learned how to prevent aliens from taking notice of them. The minute soldiers rolled into the camp Cassie’s father and brother were in, I knew there was something iffy about them. The following massacre of adults only confirmed my hunch, but I was unsure about the abduction of children or whether soldiers were aliens or just delusional humans.
Cassie is a wreck, but a sympathetic protagonist. She’s smart, resourceful and competent when it counts. I still liked her more when she meets Evan Walker – her thoughts and bleakness were downright depressing in the opening chapters, but they set the tone of the dystopia really well. Their interaction is what made this book so great – they kind of hijacked my heart and I couldn’t wait to read more about them. Cassie’s drive to save her brother gives her a goal she did not have at first, and her PTSD is believable. It colours her interaction with Evan, with anyone not her immediate family. Through the course of the book she starts to rely on him, healing a bit at a time when he makes her trust justified. Evan himself is a complex character I’d love to read more about in the next books. He’s full of surprises.
The second protagonist we follow in the book is Ben/Zombie, Cassie’s crush from school. He’s a more problematic character. A broken soul when we meet him, he still hasn’t learned to not trust people or mistrust their intentions. When the army takes him in and turns him into a soldier for killing aliens who are now revealed to have hijacked certain people, he takes to his role as if his life depends on it. It takes the rest of his squad to open his eyes to the truth they’ve long put together from various events. The child soldier Ringer is an especially smart girl, but a scary character with considerable mental issues. Frankly, she terrifies me, but they would never have learned the truth without her. I sincerely hope her character will heal once away from the military because she’s an accident waiting to happen.
The children turned into child soldiers will need some serious help. They are so messed up that I highly doubt people will restore a semblance of civilisation. You need balanced people, healthy relationships and a frame of mind that is not centred on hate, killing, and blindly following orders. When you know nothing but death, violence, and hate, you kind of have a hard time relating to other human beings, you know?
It is a question whether the series will have a happy ending at all – right now, the aliens have the upper hand, but I hope some kind of informed resistance has sprung up somewhere. It’ll be difficult for these kids to survive otherwise. I also hope Evan and Cassie will meet again. I doubt she’d fall for her former crush Ben in the meantime – I kind of can’t see them together anymore. They’ve changed too much for such nonsense, especially in the middle of an invasion.
Consensus: I’d recommend this book to all dystopia fans, but with some warning for disturbing images and ideas. I was sickened by child soldiers, especially because I know there are many of them in Africa. Their plight got superimposed upon the characters in the book and it just broke my heart. So be prepared for a very dark book, but one that will make you read more.
Image source: tumblr, GR