Wanderers by Chuck Wendig is a hell of an accomplishment. Wendig completed in a single (800 page) novel, more than most writers spend their lifetime trying to accomplish. Wanderers is an apocalyptic novel that spends most of its time in the events leading up to an apocalyptic breakdown. The novel opens with Shana (one of our main characters) waking up to find her younger sister Nessie, sleepwalking. Only thing is Nessie can’t wake up. Shana tries, but Nessie convulses and her skin heats up. Shana follows Nessie, and as Nessie walks, more and more people follow her. These sleepwalkers become “The Flock” and the people who follow them become “The Shepherds.” What follows is a societal response to the sleepwalking epidemic. The novel is an epic and has a large cast of characters. You have CDC employees, a religious pastor who is talking up how the sleepwalkers are the devil’s messengers. You also have a Donald Trump stand-in who is running for president. There is also a computer AI who seems to know a lot more than it lets on. All these narratives combine in an explosive finale that will leave any reader in awe.
This novel is a near-perfect experience especially in the over-saturated field of apocalyptic epics. I’m a sucker for apocalypse stories, and a lot of them don’t fully hit the mark for me. When they hit, they hit so well, and I love them. The Stand and Swan Song are two of my all-time favorites. In an earlier review, I said that The Fearing by John F. D. Taff is like experiencing either of those books for the first time, and I still stand by that. It’s original, it’s fresh, and it’s exciting. This book is The Stand or Swan Song for our current time. It fits the political climate, it’s very relevant, and it’s a powerful book. It will put any reader through the wringer. Wendig pulls out all the punches and has made an apocalyptic epic that will be talked about for years to come.
This novel is very relevant. There are things Wendig does in this novel that reflect the time and place we live in now, that reflect what society is like now. It’s scary. In the novel Ed Creel who is the Trump stand-in. He’s a radical force that is riling up the masses. A lot of the right-wing fringe types follow him and see him as the person who will bring back the good old days. This anger mixed with the fear of the sleepwalkers, and what comes after the sleepwalkers feels real. It almost felt like re-living election season all over again. You can feel the anger, the pain, the disappointment; but you can also see good people doing the best with what they can in a world that fears them and doesn’t want them to succeed. This novel isn’t as political as you might think, the Ed Creel stuff is mostly in the background, but the fringe right-wingers eventually become the antagonists. There is a preacher named Matthew, his wife is suffering from depression and his son hates his guts. Matthew finds solace in the bible, and he begins rattling off about how these sleepwalkers are the devil’s messengers, and his podcast almost becomes an Alex Jones type conspiracy show. This fuels the hate and fear against the sleepwalkers, and it fuels the antagonists. Matthew has a redemption arc, so he isn’t the bad guy. He’s unknowingly fueling this hate train, which only has one stop, bodies and bullets.
Wanderers is an apocalyptic novel about many things. Normally these types of stories are about hope, but this one is about the danger of fear, and hate leading to more hate. We fear the unknown; we fear the different; we fear what we can’t understand and that fear leads to hate. Not to mention, there’s an event related to the flock that the flock gets blamed for because people don’t understand what’s happening. At the start of the novel, society is relatively normal besides the sleepwalkers, but as the novel continues, we watch fear and hate cause societies to crumble, it’s tragic and it’s sad.
My only complaints about this book are very few first there is a sexual assault scene about halfway through that left a bad taste in my mouth. I usually prefer if those scenes are left in the subtext, so it was too much for me. Second is, we don’t really understand what’s causing the sleepwalkers and what the sleepwalkers are seeing/heading towards until late in the story. I feel there isn’t any easy way to do this, but I feel Wendig held his cards a little too long here. The distance hurt my empathy towards these characters, but when Wendig reveals his hand, it was beautiful. The book has a fantastic pace that quickly moves to the end. Wendig also sticks the landing. . This ending is one that sticks with me and I still think about after finishing the novel.
If you have an apocalyptic itch to scratch, pick this book up. It’s everything you’ll want in an apocalyptic epic. I can see this book being The Stand of Swan Song for our generation. It’s timely, it’s horrific, it’s tense, and it will stick with you long after you put it down.