The 5th Wave: One too many apocalypses in this YA alien novel

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey YA fantasy book reviewsThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

An alien apocalypse is Rick Yancey’s take on a new challenge for the plucky heroine prototype that has emerged in the wake of Katniss Everdeen. Whilst The 5th Wave is not quite a dystopia, there is something startlingly familiar about the feisty female lead who attempts to single-handedly take down the alien race that’s oppressing humankind in a post-apocalyptic world. With the film adaptation just released in the US, could this be the next YA mega-franchise?

First things first, how did the world fall to its knees? It seems Yancey couldn’t decide on his weapon of choice to wipe out humanity, so he chose them all. To begin with, there was an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out electricity, sending humanity back into the dark ages (introducing: The First Wave). Then a giant metal rod was sent crashing into the ocean, causing a mega-tsunami that wiped out a bunch more of humanity (The Second Wave). After that, a virus, grossly named The Red Death because it makes you bleed from every orifice, wiped out the remaining 99% of humanity (Third Wave). Then aliens possessed human bodies to wipe out the rest of humanity from the inside (and it may surprise you to discover this was called The Fourth Wave). Whilst this is pretty innovative plotting, it feels a little lazy in its execution and the story might’ve worked better by focusing on just the one apocalypse of mankind.

So, with humanity more or less eradicated and the remaining humans all possibly possessed by aliens, cue the plucky heroine that’s going to save the day: meet Cassie, the sixteen year old orphan on a mission to find and rescue her little brother Sammy from the alien invaders. She’s initially a very enjoyable character, full of contrasts and contradictions that set her apart from the other dystopian clones. With Sammy’s teddy bear under one arm and a rifle under the other, she sets out into the world, as vulnerable as she is feisty. When she gets wounded by an unseen sniper, she is rescued by the mysterious Evan, and that is where it starts going downhill.

Our initially ballsy heroine is reduced to a blubbering wreck as she gets lost in Evan’s “chocolate-brown eyes”. I mean, give the girl some credit. She’s survived by herself in the wilderness for weeks, seen her father murdered, buried her mother after The Red Death (eurgh) took her. But suddenly a boy with chocolate-brown eyes is her shortcoming? It was so utterly unconvincing, and so infuriating that an initially strong heroine is reduced to being rescued by a hunky two-dimensional twerp, that I almost put The 5th Wave down then and there.

What’s more, the viewpoint alternates between Cassie and various other humans who are fighting the aliens. Namely, Ben, a young survivor who’s been recruited as a soldier to fight the aliens. Ben finds himself attracted to a girl in his battalion, and does he swoon and get lost in her inappropriately coloured eyes? No. Certainly not. And it made Cassie’s portrayal even more frustrating.

That said, The 5th Wave is a page-turner of a book and it’s understandable why it’s being touted as the next teen franchise. It ticks all the major YA and crossover boxes, but it just felt a little too formulaic at times and the world-building was pretty underwhelming. Readers after a fast-paced alien adventure will no doubt enjoy this, as long as they know what they’re getting themselves into and can stomach the adjective “chocolate-coloured” more than five times.

Published in 2013. The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey. After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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3 comments

  1. That…umm…is a lot of apocalypses, isn’t it? o.O

  2. So, if they aliens can possess humans, why did they stage Apocs 1-3 and just start with 4? Maybe there weren’t enough aliens, and they had to thin the herd? That seems like wa-a-ay too much work though.

  3. Marion — maybe they needed to psychologically torture the humans first, so they’d be less resistant (or have a lessened ability to resist) possession?

    I keep forgetting that I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, which isn’t a good sign in its favor. Thanks for reviewing it in my place, Rachael!

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