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Review: The Book of M - Peng Shepherd

Genre: Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic Published: William Morrow, June 2018 My rating: 5/5 stars

If only we were elephants. Then we could help each other…”

Fantasy/Sci Fi- apocalyptic novels have always done their best to terrify us with wild concepts of rising dead, killer robots and monstrous mutants walking the earth. Yet it’s often the simplest and most realistic of concepts that manage to get under my skin the most. Have you ever realized how wonderfully valuable our ability to remember is? Or how fragile and fallible it could be? What would happen if the entire population, and even the physical world around you suddenly lost that ability? Peng Shepard takes that concept, and cranks it up to eleven in one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I usually give a short synopsis on what the books about here, but in this case I’m going to skip over that. Not only does the cover text do a great job on its own, but even if you go in fairly blind like I did, the first chapter will sweep you up and have you excited to find out for yourself. Peng Shepherd does an amazing job of building a world and (for lack of a better word:) “magic system” revolving around memories, elephants and shadows that works better than it has any business to, being how bizarre it sounds when I put it down like this. The entire thing is so well thought out, and makes so much “sense” in the context of the world that my suspension of disbelief was almost complete. When I was reading, for all I knew this was already happening on the other side of the world. It just hadn’t reached me yet.

We see the story through the eyes of 4 characters: - Orlando (Ory) Zhang, a devoted husband on a journey to find his wife who has recently lost her shadow. - Max, Ory’s wife, whose side of the story we hear through tape recordings she uses as a kind of dairy, to keep her from forgetting. - Mahnaz Ahmadi, stuck in Boston after the events that transpired, far away from her family in Iran. - The Amnesiac, a man who lost his memory before due to brain trauma, and offers a unique perspective on memory and memory loss, as he meets with “patient zero of the forgetting”. All of their perspectives have their own distinct voices, and I enjoyed all of them. I have to say I enjoyed Ory’s perspective the least, which is a shame as he narrates the majority of the novel. He seemed a little single-minded and flat in his character: his only goal being to find his wife, no matter the cost. As this was the only complaint I had with the novel as a whole, I can easily forgive it though.

The Book of M was all in all, one of (if not my nr. 1) favorite book of 2019 so far. I was conflicted between wanting to speed up my reading to find out how this would end, and wanting to slow down, just to be able to savour it longer. It reminded me a lot of Station Eleven, one of my all-time favorite novels, in that sense without being too similar. It’s the type of slow-paced postapocalyptic, that I just gobble up, so if you (like me) enjoy that: this is a must read! Highly recommend!

Note on the Audiobook: I started this novel on audio, but switched to the physical copy about 20% in, due to a problem I had with the narration-speed. The novel is narrated by two voice actors: a male that narrates Ory’s and The Amnesiac’s parts, and a female who narrates the perspectives of Max and Mahnaz. Although this was great in concept, I had a problem with the huge difference in speaking pace between the two. The male voice actor spoke painfully slow for my liking, to the point where I had to put the narration on 1.8 to 2x the speed to get a tolerable speed. The female however (especially as Max) speaks fairly fast, leaving me to have to switch the speed of the audiobook after every chapter. It’s a minor complaint, but possible helpful for those audiobook fans out there.

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