A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. In the tradition of The Stand and Station Eleven comes a gripping saga that weaves an epic tapestry of humanity into an astonishing tale of survival.
Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.
For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.
Hi and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Wanderers! Massive thanks to Tracy Fenton for the invite and to Rebellion Publishing for sending me a gorgeous review copy!
Nigh on 800 pages, yes, it is daunting! I went back and forth between signing up for this blog tour and declining, talking myself into it and out of it a bunch of times, but in the end, I couldn’t resist. I haven’t regretted it for one measly nanosecond. Wanderers has that rare King-effect: here is this beast of a book, lugging it around is a work-out if ever there was one, and still, it didn’t take me much longer than a regular-sized one, I was never bored, I was never wondering “are we there yet?”, the pages flew by and my attention never wavered.
Yes, I went there, I mentioned the King of dystopian literature, the mastermind who sprouted some of my favourite end-of-the-world lit: The Stand, Under the Dome, Sleeping Beauties, but who can blame me, when Chuck Wendig himself went there before me through one if his main characters:
He would not acknowledge what was going on, and what was going on here went well beyond weird and into the stuff of a Stephen King novel.
Ain’t that the truth! How so, you ask? Well, we start out in a sleepy little US town. There’s Nessie and her older sister Shana and their dad, and they’re pretty much an average family (bar the fact that the girls’ mum did a runner a while back). Until Nessie starts doing a kind of sleepwalking thing. She just ups and starts walking. She’s awake but she’s not. She’s aware but she’s not. She cannot be deterred, she cannot be stopped. That’s the weird. Before long, people start following her, there’s a whole flock of 100, 200, 900 people, sleepwalkers, walkers, wanderers, who do not stop and cannot be stopped lest you want them to self-destruct. Some are bare-footed, some are in bathrobes, some are fully dressed and some barely. They do not eat, they do not drink, they do not need to use the bathroom, they just walk, in streets, in fields, over bridges, around and over whatever obstacles, like sleepwalking Spiderpeople, like zombies (but without the decomposition and the trying to eat human flesh). And no one knows where they’re going, or why. Also, their skin seems to be impenetrable so medics and scientists can’t take any blood samples that might help to explain what’s going on. Tell me that’s not the stuff of a Stephen King novel!
The flock does not walk alone. They have “shepherds” who walk with them, or drive after them, family and friends, like Shana, who is determined to follow her little sister to the end of the world if need be, even though Nessie doesn’t seem to take in a single word Shana says to her. There’s also the media of course, and representatives from all those three-letter US institutions like the CDC, like Benji, disgraced but somewhat reinstated now with this whole wanderers thing no one knows how to handle. There’s Marcy, who experiences some sort of healing, calming glow from the wanderers that no one else seems to notice, and Pete, a fallen rock star who joins the shepherds for selfish reasons, but is actually a better man than he gives himself credit for.
This is the main storyline, but of course there’s more to Wanderers than just the wanderers. There’s Black Swan, predictive machine intelligence, a machine created with the ability to predict upcoming outbreaks, pandemics, zoonotic jumps. The problem with machine intelligence though, is that no one really wants their machine to become smarter than humans…
There’s Jerry Garlin, heir of the hugely popular Garlin Gardens theme park. He’s very ambitious, wants to show the world he’s not just the son of the brilliant Garlin Gardens mastermind, but ambition can be lethal…
There’s Matthew Bird, a pastor, one who should be preaching kindness, and forgiveness, one who should be asking his congregation to commiserate with the wanderers and their shepherds, not tell them the walkers are dangerous, a plague, demon children who deserve to be smitten by God and man alike, but alas, Matthew has been led astray…
There’s Ozark Stover, drug dealer, white power activist, militia man, all-round SOB and very good at stirring up what does not need stirring…
In summary, there’s a lot going on! There’s some jumping to and fro, but all the storylines are equally fascinating and part of the fun is first wondering how they are all connected and then finding out.
This is an epic apocalyptic tale, in the spirit of Stephen King, but by no means a carbon-copy. The finale is thrilling and the conclusions are very satisfying. To be honest, that’s a problem that I sometimes have with King, like I’m loving the story but then it somehow descends into something I can only frown at (Cell, anyone?). Wanderers, on the contrary, stays on the right side of that thin line. By the end, pretty much everything has been explained and it’s somehow on the plausible side of implausible. I’m dying to tell you why I think it’s so clever but I’m afraid to let the cat out of the bag (or the bat out of the cave 😏), so I’m keeping my trap firmly shut! By the way, if you’re planning on reading this, try and stay away from people with a head cold, yeah? My colleague had a bad case of the sniffles while I was reading Wanderers, and it made me VERY uncomfortable! I’m well aware that won’t make any sense at all, so you know what? Go buy the book!
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my favourite quote, which also sums up all 782 pages pretty well:
– We’re up shit creek without the courtesy of a paddle, aren’t we?
– Paddle? Fuck, Benji, we don’t even have a boat.
Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour: