Disclaimer: DNF’d at 72%.
Man, YA has been in a huge slump recently, hasn’t it? Plots are recycled more often than tin cans, and if it’s not some kind of paranormal (or otherwise) romance, it’s to do with a character joining some kind of secret society, or some harrowing view of a dystopian future in which zombies, vampires or rabid pro-lifers (see Neal Shusterman’s Unwholly) have invaded. You get the idea.
So, I was naturally very excited for Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave. Wendy Darling and Ashleigh Paige’s reviews convinced me right off the bat, and I even heard that this book had a $750,000 campaign behind it. Publishers are banking on it becoming huge, and have used all kinds of social media to help get its name out there.
The 5th Wave takes place in a world similar to our own. Then, everything changed when
the Fire Nation the aliens attacked. Their invasion takes place in four waves, each of which are fairly clever and would pretty much destroy society. (Let’s hope any potential alien invaders are from the planet Irk, eh?) The 1st wave destroys any form of electrical communication, to divide humanity. The 2nd wave triggers enormous tsunamis, wiping out cities and settlements all around the world. The 3rd wave is a manufactured disease spread by birds, that is said to be an even more aggressive strain of ebola. Now, with humanity completely on its knees, the aliens are coming down amongst us to pick off any survivors, and they’re in disguise as humans. Nowhere is safe, and you can’t trust anybody. The 5th Wave is coming, but just when or what it will be is anyone’s guess.
Now that is a great story premise. There’s panic, there’s mistrust, there’s losing your entire friends, family, and having to radically adjust to a new world in order to survive. In fact, our heroine Cassie has to go through all of that. She’s a regular schoolgirl when her mobile phone and the school computers stop working. She watches news reports in horror as major cities are swept away. She and her family watch their mother succumb to the ‘Red Plague’. Now, having been pulled apart from her family at a refugee camp, she has to try and stay alive as the mysterious invaders try to snuff out any remaining humans. That’s one hell of a crash course in survival skills.
In fact, Cassie is a great character to begin with. She doesn’t moan about her situation too much, she just gets out there are does what needs to be done. The only real link she has left to her family after she’s separated is her baby brother’s teddy bear, and her most prized possession becomes a rifle she learned to use at the refugee camp.
My biggest qualm with the novel, however, has to be the multiple viewpoints. We have a viewpoint from Cassie, then a viewpoint from an alien soldier, then a teenage boy, then Cassie again, and then back to teenage boy going through boot camp. I don’t normally take this long to read books (especially when it’s a highly-anticipated ARC such as this), but owing to various things which have kept me reading and limited my leisure reading time, I was often confused as hell as to whose head I was currently inhabiting. I had to keep flipping pages and back and forth, because the shifting viewpoints just do not transition well at all.
The alien’s viewpoint was quite interesting, though. I liked how his prime initiative was to kill Cassie, and yet his human host had affected his mindset so that he didn’t just take the shot and get rid of her whilst she was injured and hiding underneath a car. I was getting slight vibes of The Host, funnily enough, but now that’s left a bad taste in my mouth.
After the alien soldier lets Cassie go, she wanders through a blizzard and is saved by a boy named Evan, who watched his entire family die of the Red Plague. Naturally, Evan has devoted himself ever since to hunting, and keeping himself in a routine so his mind doesn’t snap. However, if Yancey wanted to portray Evan as this romantic sweetheart who took in Cassie out of kindness, it might have been better to tone down some of the creepier aspects of his personality. I get that he sees Cassie as being like his little sister, but really – Evan snoops through her diary, strips an unconscious Cassie naked and puts her in his sister’s bed, and hardly gives her any privacy. In fact, he watches her while she bathes. He also washes and rinses her hair for her. Even if it was sweet of him to pick up on Cassie mentioning that she hadn’t had chocolate in ages and leaving a Hershey’s Kiss on her bedside table in the morning, all that sweetness is instantly negated by his rather off-putting behaviour.
The teenage soldier going through bootcamp was uh… well, I don’t really want to spoil anything, but Rick Yancey seems to have had the famous bootcamp scene from Full Metal Jacket on repeat whilst writing this part of the story, since R. Lee Ermey’s dialogue made it into this novel, almost completely plagiarised. Okay, sure, one could say it’s paying homage, but one or two little throwbacks should be enough. Drill instructor Reznik’s personality is very close to Gunnery Sergeant Hartman’s. Arguably, so are most drill instructors depicted in media, but come on.
In fact, these boot camp and army scenes were excruciatingly boring for me. I just couldn’t gel with any of the characters, and I could see the ‘twist’ coming a mile off. They actually served to bring down the quality of the rest of the book for me. The characters all began to feel so disconnected. Even Cassie, the heroine who started out so well, became a complete bore.
Perhaps I’m allergic to the romance angle that The 5th Wave began to take, but honestly, the peril of the alien invasion really wore off after a while when Yancey decided that laboriously detailing boot camp and a budding romance was more important.
The twist towards the end (what the 5th Wave really is), was admittedly clever. However, by now I was wondering why on Earth the aliens had gone to such ridiculous lengths to take over our planet. Rather than take out the native species in five distinctive waves, why did they not simply go for one all-out invasion, if not to just needlessly antagonise humanity?
I know, I know, it would have been best for me to just stick with the book until the end, but ultimately, I didn’t care enough to find out the answer, because I had to be trapped in the minds of some of the dullest characters imaginable. The panic and peril of the alien invasion seems to just be swept under the rug, as our characters have to do nothing but twiddle their thumbs or just go through their day to day lives.
I’m sorry, The 5th Wave. It’s not you, it’s me. It was my fault for falling for the hype. I liked you to begin with, and you’re not a particularly bad read, but I found myself increasingly detached from any of the characters, and I wasn’t invested in the storyline at all after a certain point. 2/5.