Blurb from GoodReads (minus the spoilery parts): Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.
Wanderers is far from the first novel of its kind- an epic, sprawling, apocalyptic story, that evokes memories of Stephen King’s The Stand, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, or Robert McCammon’s Swan Song (admittedly, the latter two of these I have not read). And I don’t think anyone would be wrong to compare this to any of those that came before- Wendig often mentions many of these books by name, almost poking fun at the derivative nature of his own story. But I would say there is one key difference between Wanderers and the others.
Wanderers spends a lot more time on the actual downfall of man kind. It isn’t really until 75% of the way through that readers get to see what the world looks like when most of humanity is dead or dying. For that reason, some might find this to be slower paced than those others, but for me it amped up the stakes. It forces the reader to think about what it would really be like to know human civilization is coming to end, the enormity and devastation of that statement. It doesn’t skip straight to the part where the survivors are just trying to survive. You spend most of this book wondering if there will be any survivors at all.
The characters were full of depth, likes and dislikes, talents and flaws, hopes and desires. They grow and they change. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a full cast of characters in which I felt each was given sufficient attention. None of them feel like background characters. None of them feel unimportant. There was one that made me groan a little when his parts came along- but I think it was more the nature of his character than it was that anything was wrong with him, but his arc is probably one of the better ones in the book.
The pacing on this story is pretty slow- I’d say it’s driven forward by the mystery/intrigue of what’s happening to the sleepwalkers more so than the action. But the way the mystery and the plot unfolds is so natural, and even as we gain answers we also gain more mysteries, until most of the mysteries are solved and the action starts to ramp up.
There was a surprising bit of science in this book that I expected to fall more in the realm of horror or fantasy. I really enjoyed it and it added a level of “realness” to the story that made it all the more terrifying. I can’t dive into this too much without spoilers, but I read the acknowledgements at the back and Wendig’s research seemed pretty thorough, though he admits he’s not sure how accurate it ended up. It sounded real enough for me so… *shrugs*.
Finally, without spoilers, I will say the ending disappointed me a bit. It was way too ambiguous and the reader doesn’t get any closure to some of the character’s story lines. It kind of crushed me to get that sort of ending in a book I invested 780 pages worth of my time into. It felt like a cop out. So I deducted a star.
Otherwise, I think this is absolutely worth reading, especially if you enjoyed these sort of books or are a fan of Wendig’s work. I’ve been craving an epic I could sink my teeth into and get lost in, and this hit all the right notes.