Humanity is dying, under attack from an unknown enemy who is killing them in wave after wave of horror and blood. The 1st wave took out electricity, communications, the backbone of today’s society; the 2nd wave decimates coasts and cities all over the world; the 3rd wave comes in the form of plague, killing billions and the 4th wave see’s the few who are left running for their lives, unsure of who to trust. Now the world awaits the 5th wave even as the strange mothership looms above the earth waiting, ominous and silent. Cassie finds herself alone in the woods, for all she knows, the last human on earth, running from sharp shooters, staying alive out of pure determination to keep a promise that may prove to be unkeepable. At her lowest ebb, she meets Evan who has been living quietly since losing everything. Evan is kind, capable and willing to do anything for Cassie, including help her keep her promise but Cassie remains scared, suspicious and sure that whatever the 5th Wave is, she’s better of facing it alone.
The 5th Wave has multiple narratives but Cassie remains at the heart of the story. She’s something else, a girl honed by bloodshed and loss into an almost frightening automaton with a singular focus. Her narrative takes the form of journal entries and she rages at her supposed reader even while confiding her deepest fears. While she is undoubtedly kick-ass, she’s also reeling from the events that have overtaken the human race and her own personal existence. She lacks understanding of the bigger picture – it seems that almost everyone does – but her focus on her small part of it is unfailing, even as she finds herself injured and alone in the snow. Her interactions with the mysterious Evan are fraught with both longing and mistrust. Cassie has been alone for a long time when she meets him, yet she’s also seen and done some awful things and is deeply suspicious of anyone and everyone. Evan, for his part, doesn’t help much, remaining taciturn about the details of his past even as he cares for Cassie with real affection. Both are intriguing characters and as their stories intertwine they become increasingly hard to predict while remaining tentatively likable. Cassie, in particular, is always compelling.
In addition to Cassie there are three additional narratives. One is that of Private Zombie, a young man, shell-shocked and sick who ends up recruited to the fight against the Others (as they have become known, clearly the military were big fans of Lost). Realising that he has the opportunity to take up arms against those who took away life as he once knew it, Zombie slowly transitions from a thoughtful and relatively gentle boy into a hardened soldier, a person which even he himself is unsure of. The third narrative is that of another recruit, Private Nugget (these names all make sense on reading), an impossible soldier who clings to Zombie in a way not encouraged by their seniors. Nugget’s voice is more than a little heart-breaking but his character is nothing short of inspiring even though he gets less page-time than the rest. The final narrative appears only once or twice and is from the point of view of a character who was once human but who has become distinctly Other. Yet their humanity remains, causing confusion, pain and ultimately becoming the crux of the entire story and these small sections of the book are both eerie and moving.
The 5th Wave is a bit of a triumph in terms of its careful construction and gripping storytelling. The waves are described from different viewpoints, in which Yancey creates a horrifying world that he continues to expand upon throughout the book while adding in additional layers and levels (most effective in the sections that focus on Zombie’s training) of trust, lies, truth and doublespeak. His core plot is incredibly strong but this first book (The 5th Wave is the start of a series) focusses largely on world building with readers only truly discovering the nature of the 5th wave at the books climax. And what a climax it is, full of twists, turns and breath taking action. Good Sci-Fi is rarely seen in YA, particularly recently (with only Beth Revis’s Across The Universe immediately springing to mind) and it’s a pleasure to find such a well written example of the genre. The 5th Wave is utterly compelling and impossible to put down (I stayed up well into the night in order to read it in one sitting) and should be added to your wish lists straight away.