Review Blog

May 21 2013

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

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Penguin, 2013. ISBN 9780141345819.
Highly recommended for older teens. Science Fiction is entering a new golden era. During the 70s and 80s, with the rise of 'epic' fantasy, sci fi novels lost favour while Feist, Donaldson and King dominated. However, the last couple of years have seen an increase in books with spaceships, aliens and galaxies. Mesh technological gadgetry with dystopian ideals, and you have the makings of a reborn War of the worlds.
Rick Yancey already has two action-packed series for young people, with one of them The Monstrumologist, receiving critical acclaim, so it's not surprising that The Fifth Wave hits a lot of the right notes attempting to attract the reading attention of teenagers. Its basic premise is very simple - an alien race scopes out Earth and, seeing that it fits their needs, makes a calculated endeavour to take over by hostile and underhanded means.
What Yancey does with this is to create a tense, taut narrative that is full of action and snark. Cassie is the main character. We see her point of view as she attempts to survive the almost complete annihilation of the human race. Yancey doesn't follow a clear chronological style. We are thrust into an unwinnable situation, and quickly find out what Cassie is reduced to - kill or be killed. It's powerful stuff. As the story progresses we are told virtually nothing. We have to fill in the gaps between Cassie's solitary here-and-now, and her flashbacks to the last days of her family life.
Amidst all the action and the emotional family drama, there is also much snarky dialogue. When Cassie is alone, it's an inner monologue of snark and this ensures the narrative isn't totally pessimistic. Admittedly a lot of the humour is dark; 'Then the door flew open and Mr Faulks told us to head over to the gym. I thought that was really smart. Get us all in one place so the aliens didn't have to waste ammunition . . .' But it defines Cassie's character: She's feisty and brave.
When the first section ends and we enter the head of another character, I was pleasantly surprised. Multiple viewpoints allow the narrative a broader canvas. Whereas Cassie's view is an individual one, Zombie's is large scale. We see the fight back against the invaders, we see politics and training. We see the consequences of the aliens' actions on very small children. More powerful stuff.
Other viewpoints are offered, but to tell you more would spoil the surprises that are best kept secret. I guess some of what we discover is predictable and some of it a bit contrived, but that doesn't stop this from being a cracking read. Although the main goal of the book is resolved, there is more that can be, and will be developed.
Highly recommended for older teens. Themes include survival, family loyalty, trust and betrayal, romance and identity.
Trish Buckley

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