Hello humans! Today I’m reviewing Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M which I can only describe as a weird and kind of creepy dystopian novel. Books that toy with the idea of memory are often either wonderful or terrible for me and there doesn’t seem to be much of an in between. This book is certainly unique (at least I haven’t read anything quite like it) and I have quite a few thoughts.
Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.
One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.
Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.
As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.
This is quite a surreal book, though the other book I think I have described as ‘surreal’ on this blog was Paris Adrift and this book is not at all similar to that. What I mean is that, where most dystopian stories tend to feel quite real, they are scenarios in which we can imagine the world or imagine ourselves, I didn’t feel that I could in this case. I think this is largely down to the fact that the ‘shadowless-ness’ is never explained. I’m not criticising that fact, I actually think to have found a way to scientifically rationalise this process would have taken away from the tone of the book, but it does make it feel less of a dystopian novel and more fantasy? But that still isn’t quite the right genre for this book. I’m not sure there is a genre this book fits into, which is pretty neat when you think about it.
This is a multiple POV story, the main focus being on Ory’s attempts to find Max and Max’s attempts to go South. I thought that Max’s parts were a little stronger, perhaps because it was interesting reading the experience of someone losing their shadow and then progressively losing their memory? I still thought Ory’s role in the story was important, but Max was a preferable character in my opinion. There are other POVs in this book, including an Olympic level archer and a man with amnesia. The way in which these people fit together in the story was very interesting, I liked that it wasn’t too predictable, but it also didn’t feel like a huge reveal, as I think that would have taken away from the tone of the book.
What is the tone of this book? I actually found this book quite quiet and gentle, which is odd given that some of the things that happen within the story are quite high action. I’m not sure that the writing of those moments was powerful enough to create a contrast, this feels quite one level. Having said that, I thought that the more quiet tone suited some parts of the story more, the idea that people slip away gradually, not suddenly, this isn’t a violent occurrence, it is something quiet. That fact simultaneously makes this process so much kinder and so much more terrifying.
What I will say is that this book has quite a lot of (what I have referred to in my notes as) pontificating. There’s a lot of examples of people telling stories from mythology or people using quite in-depth metaphors to try to explain various situations. For the most part, this works and is cleverly used but there are a few occasions where it feels like this book is trying to sound very clever, I personally don’t respond particularly well to that.
Overall, I thought that this was a good example of adult fantasy/dystopian fiction. I think that it has some incredibly powerful moments within the story and that the characters are, for the most part, interesting people. The only things that made me not adore this book was the lack of contrast within the storytelling and the moments where I felt like I was being talked at through the book rather than being taken on a journey.
My rating: 4/5
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Would you read The Book of M? Let me know in the comments below!