September 16, 2010

I Went Into The Woods Because... (Review: The Dead-Tossed Waves; C. Ryan)

The Dead-Tossed Waves
Carrie Ryan
Gollancz 2010

This review may contain slight spoilers, especially if you have not read the first in this series – The Forest of Hands and Teeth (review here). You have been warned.

Gabry lives a quiet life, secure in her town next to the sea and behind the Barrier. She's content to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. Home is all she's ever known and, and all she needs for happiness. But life after the Return is never safe and there are threats even the Barrier can't hold back. Gabry's mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but, like the dead in their world, secrets don't stay buried. And now, Gabry's world is crumbling. One night beyond the Barrier . . . One boy Gabry's known forever and one veiled in mystery . . .One reckless moment, and half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry knows only one thing: if she has any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother's past. (blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth when it first came out not because I'd heard anything about it (this being pre-blog) but because I thought it had one of the most beautiful titles I had ever come across and therefore assumed that it would be equally beautifully written. I wasn't disappointed - the writing was skilled and the story gripping. What I particularly loved about it was that the author didn't baby her readers. Both the characters and the story line were stark and uncompromising and the ending barren and seemingly without hope.

The Dead-Tossed Waves picks up at some undefined point after the end of The Forest of Hands and Teeth - to be honest I was a little confused by the time line but estimate it to be at least twenty-five years on from Mary's arrival at her longed for ocean. Rather than remaining with Mary, who was the protagonist of the first novel, The Dead-Tossed Waves is told from the point of view of her daughter, Gabry. In a way, The Forest of Hands and Teeth was a brave start to a series. With a distinct period feel, Mary seemed like a teen from another time, governed by a strict community a la M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. All in all she was not the easiest character to relate to. Gabry, however, is a far more contemporary character. Her and her peers are instantly recognisable and The Dead-Tossed Waves grips far harder, and sooner because of this.

Gabry is fantastically well-drawn: flawed, confused and often paralysed by both real and imagined fears, she is easy to relate to and to empathise with. It is hard to dislike a character who is so convinced of her own limitations and ineptitude that she consistently fails to notice how often she surpasses her own expectations. The other characters are no less well written. Cira is an example of first class character development, her story line gut wrenchingly believable from start to finish. Cira also provides an interesting surface from which Gabry's strengths reflect in harsh contrast - despite Gabry's inability to see herself clearly next to her friend. Catcher, by necessity, changes the most over the course of the book, vacillating between his past, present and assumed future self. His doggedness is admirable and his despair desperately sad. Elias is particularly interesting, moving from a somewhat shadowy and frightening presence to perhaps friend in a believable manner. The love triangle that forms between he, Gabry and Catcher never feels forced and I was never sure of how it would develop. I'm still not sure, to be honest.

Then there are the Mudo - the Unconsecrated of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. While recognisably traditional zombies (with some of the super-speedy kind thrown in for extra fun times), the horror of the risen dead is never over-egged in The Dead-Tossed Waves. Instead, the reader is encouraged to examine them more closely, and on several occasions characters wonder (both aloud and to themselves) what exactly the true nature of their enemy actually is. This quiet introspection regarding the Mudo continues until the final, thrilling few pages where the Unconsecrated descend into pure horror - impressively without resorting to all out gore. This is not to say that the zombies aren't a terrifying presence throughout - they absolutely are, but the author has cleverly realised that the most frightening aspect of the dead is their similarity to the living.

For me, the stand out aspect of The Dead-Tossed Waves is the way in which the author explores identity. Throughout the story runs a strong riff on how hard it is to truly understand another's life and character. Be Mary and Harry, Elias and Gabry or Catcher and Cira, they are unable to view each other except through the flawed lens of their own experience - the same lens that reflects back a comparative, flawed image of themselves. The strongest sections of The Dead-Tossed Waves are Gabry's flashes of true self-realisation, which are both moving and well-deserved.

Many reviewers have stated, correctly, that The Dead-Tossed Waves is extremely bleak. Just as unforgiving as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, you should not expect a neat ending nor any set resolution as the final book in this trilogy (The Dark and Hollow Places, another beautiful title) is yet to come. However, like The Forest of Hands and Teeth it also carries blinding rays of hope - allowing the characters to find the small things that allow them to truly live. Writing as beautiful, stark and nuanced as Carrie Ryan's is an absolute pleasure to read - don't be put off by the zombies, as The Dead-Tossed Waves is far from dead in the water and is as much about how to live, as how to deal with the dead.

Next up on Week of The Living Dead...
A look at a few different zombie titles - there's a zombie book out there for everyone, so says Kristi of The Story Siren.


Lauren said...

Love this review. This book made a huge impact on me, and I loved the fact that we switched protagonists instead of sticking with Mary. I think you've hit the nail on the head about Gabry being more contemporary - even though I tried to make myself picture Mary living in the future (compared to our present) she just felt old-fashioned. Gabry is fantastically flawed, and I really hope we get to follow her story in the next book.

Clover said...

Wow. You have made me so excited to read Dead Tossed Waves now. Shall nudge that up the pile, I think. Great review!

Lynn said...

I loved both of these books - they're gritty - and I liked the way they'd moved forward to the next generation. Can't wait for the third one.