The premise of this book was really intriguing; after a natural disaster peoples shadow starts to disappear, soon after, so does their memories. I mean, it sounds great! Also, have you seen the cover? Just scroll down and look. It’s mouthwatering… 🤤
This ARC was provided to me by NetGalley in return for an honest review. Thank you.
The Book of M
by Peng Shepherd
Synopsis by NetGalley
A vivid, touching and original debut, following the effects of an extraordinary catastrophe on very ordinary people.
Set in the near future, THE BOOK OF M tells the story of a mysterious natural disaster that causes people’s shadows to disappear and, shortly thereafter, their memories.
The phenomenon imbues its victims with strange magic, but at a horrible price: it robs them of a memory each time they use it. Many try to resist the power, but the temptation is too great.
As the shadowless victims forget more and more of who they are, reality begins to bend to reflect their fractured recollections, plunging the world into a terrifying, ever-shifting alternate landscape.
The vivid dystopian world
Before I start let me just say that this book is not a bad book, but I had issues with it…
This book is difficult to review as it’s a weird one. I have a lot of conflicted feelings and view on it. The entire book feels more like a travel memoir than anything else; it’s all observations and not many thoughts or discussions. Yes, it’s a vivid world and stuff. But, it’s confusing and the writing isn’t always on point. Overall, it’s all a bit bland, and you have to read between the lines a lot especially in the beginning.
You can almost divide the book in two and say the first half was slow, confusing and had several fact discrepancies and continuity issues. While the second half was not as slow, more magic and it’s explained more so less confusing, fewer fact discrepancies and no continuity issues.
The first half can also be divided into two, wherein the first 30% of the book nothing really happens. The world is small and there are almost only two characters. There are a few flashbacks in this first 30%, but they don’t give much. The writing is not the best in the beginning either. After these 30%, the ball starts rolling. Still, it feels more like travel memoir than any other dystopian novel I’ve read (though they have all been YA 😳).
After the halfway point, it somehow gets much better. After 80% I have almost no issues with anything. I thought for a while that the differences between the two halves of the book were due to the evolving storyline, the characters get more information etc, but it’s not. The second half of the book is just better. I’m very glad I didn’t DNF it.
When I read natural disaster in the synopsis I thought more along the lines of tsunamis or earthquakes, you know something big and loud and massively disruptive in one area. That is not the case for this book. The type of “natural disaster” here is not big, nor loud, nor disruptive of one area. It starts small, then spreads. It’s almost like an illness or a magical plague. First, only one person is without a shadow, then a few more, then a whole country is hit, etc. You get the drift; it escalates. It’s quiet, like its creeping up on you. Yes, it is eventually disruptive but not until I was 30% into the book.
Basically, this was not what I expected…
Firstly, the story is viewed from four perspectives; Ory, Max, Naz and The One Who Gathers. The book is also divided into five parts where the first part is only narrated by Ory as we are introduced to this world, the situation and one character at a time.
Secondly, this is a dystopian world and something weird is happening. People seem to lose their shadow, and shortly after their memory. One viewpoint takes us through the deterioration of losing one’s memory after the shadow is lost (I won’t say who), which is the most interesting viewpoint out of all.
To add to the confusion the viewpoint is not all in the same timeframe even though they are told between each other, and in the version I had there is no time frame given so it took me a long while to realise.
It’s set in the US as most dystopian books are, most specifically Arlington and it moves further south eventually.
Of all the twists and turns in this story, only the ending surprised me, and I actually liked it 👍 This is the reason I gave the book a three ivy leaf instead of two
It starts off as a standard dystopian world with what appears to only have two people in it. It’s clearly post-apocalypse, not at the starts or just after something terrible happened. It’s definitely some time after.
As the two characters move away from their hole and into the world it builds more, more characters are introduced both shadowed and shadowless. and the world becomes more populated and diverse. Their thought about the world is changing too and weird things happen.
There was just the right amount of world building for me in this book. It was not too small even though the beginning is tiny. It was the right amount 🙂
Basically, once you lose your shadow and you start to forget, weird things can happen. They way it’s written into the book is very subtle and without context, you may not notice, especially for the first half of the book. For example, someone brings Max a rose. Max thinks its nice but wouldn’t expect to see any roses this time of year while she is walking around on the dead grass after she has taken off the frost from her tent. To me, it almost sounded like a fact discrepancy and I got very confused and frustrated. I mean it’s getting closer to winter time and there is frost on the ground in the mornings, the grass is very dead, and then someone finds a rose. *confused face* Sounds a bit like a fact glitch, right? The word magic doesn’t appear very often in the first half and you have to read between the lines quite often to even see it. With the rose, it later turns out that this someone always has flowers in full bloom around her, in her hands, in her lap, in her bag, etc. Reading between the lines means this character has magic but it’s not shown in context, it’s delivered as a fact. This case is the most obvious ones, but there are several that completely slipped past me. This is one of my main issues with the writing style, everything is delivered as facts and just is, without any explanations or deeper context. Is difficult, especially in the beginning, to separate “magic” from the rest of the text
Towards the end, the magic becomes very fascinating. There are a lot more context and a lot more text surrounding it making it less confusing and more obvious. The magic is very related to the lack of memory. You forget that you cant make a flower bloom whenever you want, so you can. and some people do. There is a cost of using magic though. I enjoyed reading about the struggle between the two (only at the end).
What was annoying when I read it but more fascinating when I write this review and really think about it, is the way the people forget. The can forget who they are, who their mothers are, where they live, but also how to breathe, how to work a door, how to eat, and at the same time know that they have forgotten it. They are fully aware that they have forgotten their mothers, or where they live, until they forget the word and their meanings too. It was annoying in the beginning when everything was new. Nothing is explained in the first third of the book, again things just are.
Almost all the characters in this book are people of colour, which to me fully represent how the US is today. Out of all of them, I think my favourite character is Max.
Max is Ory’s wife. The book starts with her having lost her shadow a few days back and they don’t really know what to do about it. This character has the most development through the entire book. I really enjoyed her viewpoints and her journey and I thought she was just a great person.
Ory is Max’s husband. He is trying to get to grips with the fact that his wife has lost her shadow and he will soon lose her too. He wonders a lot about what she will forget first. I feel this is almost his only thought throughout the entire book.
Naz should have been training for the Olympics in archery, but no, she is running for her life across the states. I really liked Naz shes quite badass but still human with emotions.
The One Who Gathers – this is a weird one. I feel introducing the viewpoint of this character so early on was kind of a spoiler. At the end of the book, I realised that it was needed otherwise the ending would be very random.
There is a little bit of LGBT+ in here. In one of the flashbacks to when I all started, they were in a gay wedding united by a rabbi which I really liked. It was very sweet as a proper wedding should be. There is no anit-LGBT+ comments or anything like that in this book which was really nice.
I have some small issues with the writing.
Sometimes the writing misses small words out like “the” after a comma. Doing this makes the sentence lose its fluid feel.
There is also a slowness to the writing. There is a lot of travelling and observations going on which are well done and in enough detail, but then some action strings up and it’s short and quick as if it doesn’t matter but it’s added to the text for seasoning. I usually read the action twice to make sure I fully understand what just happened because it’s quick short and not satisfying enough.
Also, why does Max’s point of view go from dialogue to storytelling? I liked the dialogue style writing, it was different from the other viewpoints. When it became storytelling styled writing, it fell a bit flat and blended in with all the other viewpoints.
Lastly, there are a few discrepancies in facts and continuity issues. If these are not discrepancies but magic, fine, but they need to be in more context within the text and not laid out as fact. They stick out like sore thumbs to me. For example, in the beginning, it’s mentioned that “Night now was oblivion” which makes me think there are no moon and no stars. Even with a new moon (no moon), you can see some stuff because of the stars. Later on, they are “watching the moon”. So there is a moon? Is it really oblivion at night? I’m confused. Or when the car window breaks and covers Max in shards, then someone says something and the Max ducks to get away from the shards…?
They also seal a door opening (no door) with concrete… Where would they get the concrete from, the water from and how on earth did they manage to get it to stand up without moulds? Concrete is a thick liquid. Doesn’t make sense…!
There are also a few issues with a sentence which tell an event, then the next sentence starts with an “it” and I don’t always know what “it” refers to based don’t he previous sentence.
These things infuriate me and I could go on forever.
In the end, some of the discrepancies can be explained by magic, fine. Several can’t.
It’s a weird read. There is a lot of reading between the lines to get a full understanding of what is going on in this world and who they are. I have read weird books before and liked them but this didn’t get to their level of quality.
It’s like magical realism in a dystopian world told like a travel memoir…
I didn’t get emotionally invested on any level in this book. This isn’t really much mystery or scariness to this type of dystopian world. OK, I wouldn’t want to lose my shadow nor my memories, but there is nothing in the writing which makes me uncomfortable or scared about it either.
It is a fascinating subject and all the ideas introduced in this book that all becomes much clearer at the end, are all very interesting and fascinating. It was fully original and has a lot of potentials. It just wasn’t entirely there yet.
I almost DNF’d it, but I kept hoping it would get better, and it did. I really liked the ending and I’m glad I didn’t give up 🙂
This book has gotten a lot of great reviews and people clearly like it. I didn’t like the beginning, but by the end, I accepted it and almost liked it. I think the twist at the end had something to do with it. There is nothing like a twist you don’t see coming 😉
Have you read this? What did you think?