I’m going to say something that probably a few of you have already been feeling. So far, the year, 2020, has felt like a dystopian horror novel. We’ve had everything from massive Australian wildfires to a global pandemic to a disappointing almost presidential impeachment, to racial protesting for equality, to murder hornets, to more shark sightings, to a wild rabbit virus to Karens. Reading about a different dystopian landscape might not be the first thing readers want to do in light of all we’ve been through. But, when it comes to dropping into the world of Josh Malerman’s Bird Box sequel, it’s a thrilling story that just about everyone can get behind.
I flew through Bird Box about a month ago, loving the moral ambiguity the title character, Malorie, faces as she tries to protect her two children. In a world where no one can open their eyes, lest they see creatures that cause spontaneous violence and suicide, there’s no room for error. We saw Malorie transform from a normal woman questioning her pregnancy from a one night stand and wondering how she’s going to tell her parents, to someone living in constant fear, learning to live and survive with strangers as the world falls apart.
Malorie is someone so easy to identify with, to understand her confusion and desperation with all the she experiences. That’s why the sequel, with her namesake as the title, is even more of a thrill ride than the first book. The book begins with carnage at the school for the blind where Malorie and her children found refuge at the end of Bird Box. Somehow, someone has been infected by the creatures and Malorie and her children must go on the run again in order to survive. The quandry that immediately comes to everyone’s mind is “how are blind people now affected by the creatures?”. They have always infected people by sight, but now, it seems they have evolved. Malorie’s first instinct is to assume they can now infect people by touch.
Snapping forward in time ten years, we get a glimpse of how life is now for teenagers, Tom and Olympia, under Malorie’s rule. Malorie has stayed alive by sticking to basic rules and “living by the fold” (that is, the blindfold). Keep your blindfold on whenever you go out, listen closely to your surroundings, do not talk to strangers, and don’t let the creatures touch you. While Olympia understands her mother’s feelings and acknowledges the rules, Tom has a harder time dealing with his mother’s increasingly stringent commands.
When a stranger comes knocking claiming to be a census taker, it immediately ignites a sense of curiosity in Tom. He wants to know how many other people are out there and what their experiences have been with the creatures. Both Olympia and Tom are convinced there are more of the creatures than there use to be, which has inspired him to start inventing items that can help people be able to see the creatures without going crazy. He doesn’t mention these inventions to Malorie, wary of her fear and paranoia. Anything that might be a danger to Malorie and her children will not be tolerated. And so, the census taker is asked to leave. He does so, leaving behind his papers which document colonies of survivors, encounters with creatures, and lists of all the people the census taker has come in contact with.
When Malorie becomes aware that her parents, long thought to be dead, are on the list, she must deal with the dilemma of whether to place herself and her children in harms way in order to find them or not.
I really enjoyed the departure from just Malorie’s sole point of view. Getting both Tom’s and Olympia’s reactions to what’s going on around them and their individual views of their mother is the perfect compliment to this harrowing story.
There are also more close encounters with the creatures in this book. My heart was pulsing as I read, wondering how our characters were going to get away while being surrounded.
I felt as though this book was a quicker read and was a little less in depth about describing some of the minor characters, which saddened me a little. We meet a character on The Blind Train (I know: SO COOL!) who I really thought might become a larger character as the story went on. It was even alluded that he might become a romantic option for Malorie. We also get a scene from his POV. But he rapidly vanishes just as the story is ramping up, which was disappointing. His lack of involvement felt overlooked. I would have really liked it if he had had a larger role as it seemed that was where the story was going.
All in all, this was the perfect end to the saga and I put the book down feeling so inspired and in awe of Malerman’s skill for keeping the pace smooth and giving the reader such measured, realistic descriptions. I’m definitely on board to read more of his work and soon.
For now though, I’ve got Stephen Graham Jones’s new horror novel, The Only Good Indians on my Kindle to read now and my friend, Kevin Lewis’s new novel, The Catcreeper, on the docket for later. Stay tuned for those upcoming reviews.