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The Fifth Wave review

fifth wave

An alien apocalypse page-turner that keeps you guessing right until the end…

The Fifth Wave

by Rick Yancey


May 2013, Penguin


Book jacket blurb:


Took out half a million people.


Put that number to shame.


Lasted a little longer. Twelve weeks… Four billion dead.


You can’t trust that people are still people.


No one knows.

But it’s coming.


On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs.

Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth’s last survivors.

To stay alone is to stay alive, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope.

Now Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.


In most post-apocalyptic fiction, one cataclysmic event unleashed upon humanity seems to do the trick. A massive electromagnetic pulse brings civilisation to a standstill. A worldwide tsunami washes a large portion of the population away. Millions die in an Ebola-type plague. Any remaining survivors turn against each other, not knowing who they can trust. In Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave, all of the above happens… and there is still worse to come. We don’t know what the fifth wave will entail. But it’s coming. And the intense sense of uncertainty created by this impending threat kept me turning pages hungrily right until the end.

The book opens with our first narrator, Cassie. As each wave arrived, things have gone from bad to worse. She’s witnessed all sorts of unpleasant things happen to her family, and now she’s alone. You would think that all of this would make for a depressing read but right from word go she hits us with her acidic humour and sense of irony and against all odds you find yourself laughing along with her, in particular at her witty observations about how people imagined the arrival of aliens to be and how horribly wrong they were. I warmed to her straight away for that, and for her unerring determination to keep her promise to her little brother.

The perspective shifts between narrators a few times in this book, and I like this technique when it’s done well. It really seemed to fit this context, where any remaining humans are isolated from each other. Ben Parish, aka Zombie, the other main voice, is no less likeable than Cassie, though his perspective is a more moving and sombre counter-point. So we have a strong leading male and female who are, refreshingly, linked by a strange set of coincidences rather than a trite love triangle. Then there is Evan Walker, Cassie’s mystery rescuer, your typical swoon-worthy teen hero in so many ways but not an easy character to come to terms with in some others.

I loved these characters, and the big ‘humanity’ questions the author throws up through the situations he puts them in gave me lots to think about even after I was done reading. There was plenty of tense, edge-of-your-seats action, too. But what really makes the book stand up is the quality of the baddies – I mean, these are some evil, resourceful planet-grabbing nasties! And like all good horror movies, the fear factor comes more from what you don’t see than what you do. Worse still, is that the alien invaders’ most abhorrent and effective modi operandi – such as bio-warfare, brain-washing and training up a child militia – are all too familiar and terrifying because they are practised by humans upon each other in the real world today.

It’s gripping stuff, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if rumours of a film trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and claims of it being ‘the next Hunger Games but better!!’ turn out to be true. Let’s just hope that Rick Yancey is wrong about the aliens.

Thank you to Penguin for the ebook ARC in return for an honest review.

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