This review originally appeared on 80 Books Blog.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
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.
*Disclaimer: I work for the publisher, but received no compensation for this review.*
The experience of reading this novel was a roller coaster. The writing is so exquisite! Richly detailed, yet the book has simple and effective use of language. Beyond that, I love dystopian novels and this ticked every box.
- Epidemic/ natural disaster
- Magical realism element
- Fanatical cult
- A love story
All of these elements were so well woven that it’s hard to describe them individually, but it all makes sense.
To sum of the basic plot in a few words, there is a worldwide epidemic where many people on earth have “lost” their shadow, causing them to slowly, painfully, lose their memories. The novel revolves around four perspectives, Ory, Max, Naz, and “The One Who Gathers.” Ory and Max are a married couple who have survived the epidemic so far by hiding in a hotel in the mountains in Virgina. Max loses her shadow and while Ory is out looking for food, she wanders off, but talks to a small tape recorder around her neck in order to preserve her memories. Ory, of course, very nobly, tries to find her. She heads west and he heads east toward their old home. It seems destined they will never see each other again. The tension!
Naz is an Olympic hopeful in Archery from Iran, living in Boston, when the city falls to the epidemic. Once people lose their memories, they become become irrational and violent, and it’s very easy for chaos to form where there was once order. Naz is in the middle of Boston, training for the Olympics when this happens. Her sister travels from Tehran and eventually finds her, though they are both quite ill from malnutrition and lack of hydration. They travel to Washington, D.C., surviving as best they can.
The One Who Gathers is an interesting character, he was in a car accident and lost his memories this way, but still has a shadow. This person, who remains nameless throughout the book, eventually becomes somewhat of a beacon for all those affected by the loss of a shadow, whether an actual shadowless, or just someone who has lost someone in this way. Many people go to New Orleans to visit The One Who Gathers.
I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a very heartbreaking twist at the end that just hurts my heart in all the right ways. The book is a painful exploration of what it’s like to lose something you never think was possible. I like the lore of the shadows and how the shadows just decide to leave, but we are left with impossible questions. Where did they go, how do we get them back, why is this happening? In some ways these questions don’t need to be answered because we’re so focused on the present. But in other ways, we’re just as lost and confused as the characters.
The characters and plotting were all woven in such an intricate way. There were some slow parts in the middle, but I kept reading to know more. I was invested with knowing “The One Who Gathers” and knowing more about survival. The ending in general is very action packed.