Title: The Book of M
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review. I also read a large part of this book via audiobook, which was purchased through my own Audible account.
The Book of M is a one of the best post-apocalyptic fiction I have read in recent years, and it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel. It’s a poignant examination of human memories and connection, filled with powerful and surrealistic imageries. The last pages of the novel still haunt me, and I keep catching myself thinking about the book’s shadowless world. I did have some issues with the book which I will discuss below, but overall, this book marks Peng Shepherd as an author to be watched – I can’t wait to see what she will come up with next.
A strange and impossible event has flipped the world upside down. People all over the began losing their shadows, and with it, their memories. They fill in the gaps in their memories with imaginings that takes literal form, filling cities with warped streets, strange buildings, and extraordinary creatures. The forgetting starts small, the name of a street or a household object. It then spreads to encompass the memories of loved ones, the ability to speak or breathe. The entire spectrum of the Shadowless’ inexplicable condition is showcased in The Book of M to great effect, it’s simultaneously frightening and mesmerising.
The Shadowless and their disappearing memories was inspired by Zero Shadow Day, an astronomical phenomenon restricted to a few geographical locations in India. Twice a year, during a few precious moments, shadows disappear due to an alignment of sun and earth. I loved seeing how the author took this idea and transformed it into an expansive and imaginative post-apocalyptic landscape. The writing is descriptive and vivid, creating a foreboding and surrealistic atmosphere. While the book switches constantly between four different point of views, they each provided a different perspective on the world and meshed together seamlessly. Each point of view also narrated the plot at slightly different timeline, so the book felt like a puzzle that readers had to put together.
Of all the different viewpoints, I particularly enjoyed Max’s chapters. She lost her shadow at the beginning of the novel, and seeing her thoughts and transformation was an incredibly emotional experience. If you have the chance, I highly recommend the audiobook. Max’s chapters were narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, who’s voice and performance enriched Max’s character. I also enjoyed the Ory and Naz’s chapters immensely, although I felt they were quite similar in tone. The remaining narrator is the mysterious One Who Gathers, and their chapter shed a completely different light on the unfolding situation. Their chapter included one of my favourite relationships within this book, shared between two men who are learning to live with the loss of their memories.
I found the pacing of this book to be good, I got through the 17 hours audiobook in a matter of days. The mystery of the Shadowless and Max’s journey kept me digging for more. However, I have heard from other reviewers that they found the book slow – and I admit I would have found it difficult to finish the book so fast without the aid of my audiobook, there is a large section in the middle that felt largely repetitive.
The book has a very diverse cast of characters coming from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, and I appreciated the inclusivity of the various cultures in the books. However, I had a major issue with The Book of M due to the tragic deaths of the only gay characters in the book. While I understand that this book takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape where there are numerous deaths – seeing the only two gay characters die while heterosexual characters managed to survive worse odds felt uncomfortable. The death of one of the gay characters were also a catalyst to advance a main character’s storyline and set him on the ‘correct’ path. It’s 2018, the book is released during Pride Month, having a tired and hurtful trope rear its head really affected my enjoyment of the book.
Overall, The Book of M was a memorable debut with a haunting ending. However, I have some reservations about the book due to the pacing and the appearance of the hurtful ‘bury your gays’ trope.