Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3)

Cover image for The Last Star by Rick Yanceyby Rick Yancey

ISBN 978-0-599-16243-5

“No one is ever going to read this. By the time I’m gone, there won’t be anyone left who can read. So this isn’t for you, future reader who won’t exist. It’s for me.”

Humanity has been devastated by wave after wave of attacks from the Others, disembodied aliens who have come to…well no one really knows what their goals are. Why would a disembodied consciousness need a planet? But Evan Walker—part human, part alien Silencer—knows that in four days, on the spring equinox, the Silencers will be called home to the mother ship, and the next wave of destruction will begin. The remaining survivors, Cassie, Sam, Zombie, Ringer, and Megan are almost out of time.

The Last Star opens on a priest, holed up in a series of caves in Ohio with some of the remnants of humanity. He says mass for the last time, having run out of wine and bread to serve as the host. The language of a Revelations-style apocalypse is worked throughout this final installment of the series, an on-going motif that helps evoke an atmosphere of imminent doom. In The 5th Wave, bodies as battlefields and cockroaches were the choice images, while rats and the silver thread connecting people featured heavily in The Infinite Sea. Here the motif is faith in its many forms; who and what do we trust or believe in at the end of the world?

From there, Yancey divides the story into four sections, one for each of the remaining days before the next phase of attacks begins. He continues to utilize multiple perspectives, often shifting between voices at key moments, but striking a better balance than he achieved in The Infinite Sea. Cassie’s voice in The Last Star is snarkier, more on edge. Writing in her journal, she tries to use humour to diffuse the almost unbearable tension, but it only serves to highlight the desperateness of the situation. Evan has a plan to use the fact the Silencers are being called in to strike back at the Others, but Cassie worries about all the many unknowns that could derail the plan. So many of their assumptions have already been overturned, and their reunion with Ringer only serves to further emphasize that fact. Yancey’s imagination remains gritty and horrific.

The 5th Wave was probably one of my favourite reads of 2013, though it didn’t make my top five, in large part due to a gross scene in which Cassie says no and Evan proceeds anyway. As I put it at the time, “authors, having your heroine say NO and your love interest ignore her IS NEVER ROMANTIC.” In The Last Star it was Ringer’s situation that bothered me on a number of levels, the least spoilery of which was Zombie’s ongoing crusade to get her to smile for him, just once. The intention was likely to show that Zombie cared about making Ringer happy, but forcing women to smile is loaded with cultural baggage. Apparently even the end of the world doesn’t excuse women from smiling for men. In the end, I couldn’t get on board with either of the series’ romances.

Like many YA series, The Last Star features an epilogue. As usual, I kind of wished I hadn’t read it. After such a gritty series, Yancey’s efforts to evoke some sense of hope feels forced and cliché. In terms of plot, this is a fairly strong conclusion that improves upon the scatteredness of The Infinite Sea, but the series struck enough sour notes along the way to leave me with mixed feelings.

Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave #2)

Cover image for The Infinite Sea by Rick Yanceyby Rick Yancey

ISBN 978-0-399-16242-8

Warning: Given how obfuscated the jacket copy plot description is, some purists might consider my plot summary below to be spoilery. I have done my best to give you some idea of what actually happens in the book without giving away the store, but proceed at your own risk.

“Pining for things we lost is the same as hoping for things that can never be. Both roads dead-end in despair.”

Injured and afraid, the escapees from Camp Haven hole up in an abandoned, rat-infested hotel, trying to figure out what their next move should be after the revelations of The 5th Wave. Cassie is anxiously waiting for Evan to catch up with them, while slowly losing hope that he survived the blast that destroyed Camp Haven. In search of a better long-term hiding place, Ringer sets out to scout a potential winter shelter, but her attachment to Teacup compromises the mission, placing them both back in Vosch’s clutches. Meanwhile, the hotel hide-out becomes a death trap as a Silencer from Evan’s past begins targeting the small band of survivors.

Rick Yancey takes a gamble and falls short with the narrative structure of The Infinite Sea. The scene and POV shift constantly throughout the first half of the novel, roving among the various survivors, before finally settling with Ringer in the second half of the book. Misinformation is Yancey’s stock-in-trade, but he gets a bit carried away in The Infinite Sea, proving there can be such a thing as too many plot twists and cliff-hangers as he struggles to sustain suspense during the goings-on at the hotel. This fractured and frustrating opening is the price of admission for the second half, and the revelation that changes everything. Make no mistake, it’s a doozy, but the maneuvering it takes Yancey to get there is exhausting.

Yancey’s title is a reference to a speech made by Shakespeare’s Juliet, but star-crossed lovers are hardly the focus of The Infinite Sea.  Even more so than in The 5th Wave, romance takes a back-seat as the plot moves to focus on Ringer, locked in a battle of wills and wits with Commander Vosch. Ringer always had a lot of questions about Cassie’s relationship with Evan, and Evan’s revelations about the Others, but Vosch puts Teacup’s life on the line as he challenges Ringer to reconcile the contradictions in what she thinks she knows. After all, the Others are supposed to be pure consciousness, but “a virtual existence doesn’t require a physical planet.”

Plot structure aside, The Infinite Sea still has much of what recommended The 5th Wave, which was gritty and inventive in its horrors. The Others’ latest tool of terror combines psychological and military warfare by turning the youngest human survivors in into IEDs, preying on the human instinct to preserve the children. And in the midst of all the action and horror, Yancey still comes out with strikingly observant bits of prose, and evocative images and motifs. Whereas in the The 5th Wave he used cockroaches and bodies as battlefields, in The Infinite Sea he uses rats and a silver thread that connects the characters to similar affect. Chess has been a consistent motif in both books, but it becomes especially important here as Vosch toys with Ringer, challenging her to a game with no rules. Yancey’s writing remains stylistically strong, and the last act offers hope for the next installment to be as good as the first one was.

Dystopian, Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

The 5th Wave

Cover image for The 5th Wave by Rick Yanceyby Rick Yancey

ISBN 9778-0-399-16241-1

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

The Hum is gone. You remember the Hum. Unless you grew up on top of a mountain or lived in a cave your whole life, the Hum was always around you. That’s what life was. It was the sea we swam in. The constant sound of all the things we built to make life easy and a little less boring. The mechanical song. The electronic symphony. The Hum of all our things and all of us. Gone. This is the sound of the Earth before we conquered it. Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky. That’s how quiet it is. After a while it’s almost more than I can stand.”

When a satellite image of an alien spacecraft was spotted off Mars, humans received confirmation they were not alone in the universe. For ten days humanity waited for the mother ship to arrive, and hoped that the visitors would be friendly. On the tenth day, the Others sent out an electromagnetic pulse that destroyed Earth’s transportation and communication systems. That was the first wave. Since then the human population has been decimated by three more waves of attack. But the fourth wave has perhaps been the worse; the aliens are wearing human faces and no one can be trusted. Survival has become a hopeless paradox; you must be alone to survive, but together to have any hope of fighting back. Since losing her parents and being separated from her brother, Cassie Sullivan’s policy has been that to stay alone is to stay alive. But when she is shot in the leg by one of the Others’ Silencers, she has no choice but to trust Evan Walker. Not only is he her only hope for survival, he may be the only person who can help her rescue her brother

The POV rotates between Cassie, Evan, her brother Sam, and a teenage military recruit known to his squad as Zombie. Cassie is snarky and a little bit funny, while Zombie’s narrative voice hardens as he goes through basic training and becomes soldier. Sam’s narration doesn’t quite manage to capture a five year old, but his experience provides information that is important to the narrative. Although the chapters aren’t labelled as to who is narrating, it’s usually quite easy to figure out (except when Yancey deliberately obscures their identity, which is the case in at least two chapters). Yancey also has an excellent knack for imagery and analogies, although some of these ideas and turns of phrase are used by multiple characters independently, which comes across as incongruous. Chess, cockroaches and especially the idea of bodies as battlefields appear as cross-character motifs.

Although largely dystopian sci-fi, there is a distinct element of mystery to The 5th Wave that will keep you turning the pages. With communications systems knocked out, and humans unable to trust one another, no one has enough information—there is a lot of confusion, speculation, and guess work. Elements that at first seem like plot holes or continuity errors often turn out to be part of this confusion. Pay attention to the elements that don’t add up, because this is a book that will keep you on your toes the whole way through.

As I was reading, I was struck by a number of similarities between the premise of this book and Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. The aliens are inhabiting human bodies, and experiencing human feelings and emotions. Against their better judgment, some of the aliens have become intrigued by humanity. Cassie, like Melanie, has lost her parents, but is dedicated to her younger brother. However, that is largely where the similarities end. Where The Host was a romance with a window dressing of science fiction, The 5th Wave is science fiction with the barest hint of romance. In many ways, The 5th Wave is the book The Host could have been if Meyer had gotten serious about the sci-fi elements.

Although there isn’t a great deal of romance in The 5th Wave, the romance that is present fell terribly short of my expectations. I tweeted this a couple days ago, but let’s say it once more for good measure: authors, having your heroine say NO and your love interest ignore her IS NEVER ROMANTIC. Rape makes me want to rage quit your book (and knocks at least one star of whatever I might have rated it otherwise). The 5th Wave is a gritty, thrilling and largely enjoyable page-turner, but framing the romance this way makes it difficult to engage with what will undoubtedly be a key element of the plot as the series goes on.


Looking for a little more romance and a little less sci-fi? I recommend The Rules by Stacey Kade.