Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Publication Date: July 2nd, 2019
Hardcover. 800 pages
Wanderers is an enormously ambitious novel that really took me by surprise. I had extremely high hopes for this book and I was not disappointed in the slightest. In all truthfulness, Wanderers is the first book that I have ever read by Chuck Wendig--and it certainly won't be the last. I didn't really know what to expect from his writing, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Wendig has a very clear writing style; it's descriptive without being overboard and is entirely entertaining with plenty of interesting background tidbits given about various characters, locations, and events. I genuinely enjoyed every single page and minute I spent reading this book. Usually in an 800 page book, you're likely to feel bored at some point for a period of time, even if the writing is fantastic. It just feels inevitable to happen--except, somehow, for Wanderers. That feeling of a slowdown in pacing or a bit of boredom creeping in truly never happened in any sense that I can recall. I was hooked from page one all the way until the last.
The characters in Wanderers are remarkably well-written and developed. Wendig really dives into the background and history of each character, as well as their present day internal conflicts and frustrations with themselves and others, all of which lead to a plethora of interesting and unique characters to explore. There are characters that are easy to love, others that are easy to hate, and even more that straddle the line of love and hate and leave you feeling unsure how exactly you should feel about them. He also includes a large variety of people from all walks of life that really add some strong, unique perspectives to keep the story lively, realistic, and relatable The best part is that none of the characters were added in just to have another character; rather, each character had an important, vital role that fully expanded and developed.
A few of the major characters include: Shana Stewart, whose younger sister Nessie was one of the first sleepwalkers; Benji, formerly an employee of the CDC who becomes tangled up in the sleepwalker fiasco despite being let go from the CDC years prior for morally questionable actions; Sadie, creator of the all-knowing, god-like Black Swan AI that is possibly the most crucial component to this book; Arav, a young member of the CDC who stays with the flock; Matthew, a pastor from a small town in Indiana who ends up on a journey in a role he never anticipated and can't seem to stop; and lastly, Pete, an out-of-time former rock god who wants to hold onto his youth and significance for as long as possible. Together, these character make up the general misfit cast of characters that have the most impact throughout this story and who truly make this book as memorable and incredible as it is. I really wanted to go into more detail about each of these characters in this review, but I have a feeling it's going to be a longer one so I'll leave it with those brief tidbits about each, leaving you to discover more about them and their journeys.
As mentioned, Wanderers is truly epic in scope and covers a myriad of themes and elements that are relevant to our daily lives even now without some unknown potentially apocalyptic flock of sleepwalkers present. He touched heavily on issues such as race and religion and how they can be amplified in various ways during crises and even turned into weapons and threats that can lead to even bigger and more terrifying outcomes than the main crisis itself (something that is not exactly unheard of throughout history, which we all know tends to repeat itself). He also explores many moral-related quandaries, including an exploration of empathy and compassion and how they both factor into a situation such as this one. Do you solely look out for yourself and your family in this scenario, or do you continue helping the others around you no matter whether you know them or not or how you feel about them? Is there a right or wrong way to treat people affected by the 'sleepwalking' epidemic? All of these questions and so many more are explored throughout Wanderers, which is part of what makes it so compelling.
As far as stylistic notes go for this book, the most notable component that I loved was the inclusion of small epigraph-like excerpts at the start of each chapter. Most of these seemed like a 'throwaway' sort of thing, but I loved the social commentary that was able to be conveyed through these. Wendig includes random excerpts from imagined posts on Reddit, excerpts from made-up podcasts or quotes from random Tweets on Twitter, and together all of these really added some unique depth and insight into how the public were reacting to the flock of sleepwalkers and the shepherds following them. I particularly liked this component since the majority of this novel follows those who are on the inside of the entire state of affairs, rather than being an average member of the public watching this occur.
Obviously I can't go into any details regarding the ending of the book, but I would just like to throw out there how much of a shock it was and how consistently unpredictable this book is. Sure, you can maybe hazard a guess about a few things here or there, but in the big picture Wendig keeps you guessing and completely unprepared for what he's about to throw at you. There are some incredibly impressive and unexpected plot lines and ideas about things that blew my mind and that I loved, and he continued to pull the rug out from under me through--quite literally--the last few pages.
Overall, there's nothing I could give Wanderers other than five stars, which it wholeheartedly deserves. If you like your books epic, imaginative, impossible to put down, and full of incredible characters, then you have to pick up Wanderers.
*I received an ARC of Wanderers courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*