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Rick Yancey – The 5th Wave

Book Cover

Not the happy Mexican one.

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 461
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-141-34583-3
First Published: 7th May 2013
Date Reviewed: 7th July 2016
Rating: 3/5

The alien ‘waves’ arrived with only ten days warning. For those ten days, a vast mother ship hovered in the sky; humanity went about life as normal, wondering if the aliens would make contact and either becoming excited or remaining indifferent to the idea. Like the other kids, sixteen-year-old Cassie continues going to school and it’s during a lesson that the lights go out, mobile phones go dead, and a plane falls from the sky. Suddenly excitement about alien contact goes silent, as silent as the waves of death the aliens begin to spread.

The 5th Wave is a Young Adult science fiction book that is an easy and often well-paced read but unfortunately suffers due to its formulaic nature and writing.

The story begins well and with much promise – this will not be your usual alien-invasion story, says Yancey, and Cassie quickly quashes her misgivings over using a gun. She will shoot if she has to. It’s all rather exciting. Get past the first section, however, and the true concept reveals itself: The 5th Wave may not be your ‘usual’ alien story (or at least not too usual) but it is your usual dystopian. After that first section wherein Cassie was a character you were fully looking forward to spending a vast number of pages with, two things happen.

First thing: Cassie’s personality changes. She meets a boy and suddenly it’s no longer a question of guns and survival and aliens outside the door (the humans have considered the possibility of infiltration) but looking nice, washing her hair… you get the idea. That Cassie falls in love in a desperate situation is understandable, but that she suddenly pushes the apocalypse to the side isn’t exactly realistic. She’s just survived tsunamis and a plague that wiped out billions, people are dead and every second counts in saving someone only she can save, but let’s have a cuddle first.

Second thing: the narrative switches to other characters. This isn’t a problem in itself, even if it does mean the book leans ever more into that formulaic territory, it’s that Yancey doesn’t tell you he’s switching and the lack of names mean it always takes a bit of time to work out who you’re reading about. The first new point of view matches Cassie’s in that the situation is one you naturally think is hers – Cassie was hurt so turning the page to read about someone being given first aid sounds like a continuation of the narrative. (I myself thought the referrals to this person as ‘he’ amounted to some sort of alien female-led society, which would’ve been rather awesome.)

Following on from this narrative change is the way Yancey goes about answering questions. He doesn’t really need to say anything, the book is entirely predictable once you’ve figured out what his plan is, but as it trickles out you see the influences – The Hunger Games, a certain vampire series, and notable bits and pieces from other books that it would spoil the ‘reveal’ to list, blended together (there’s even some sort of inner goddess spin-off going on). If you’ve read any of those books or seen the film adaptations, you won’t find anything new in this book.

Are the aliens exciting? Not really. They’re said to be very advanced but they’re conveniently limited by our technology at times. They make choices that allow Yancey to keep the story going. And there will be no epic battle with them later on in the series because of the way Yancey has constructed their civilisation.

There is one very good thing about this book and that is the atmosphere, or slight commentary, Yancey includes of political historical situations. Many other reviewers have noted the Colonial era, the British invasion of America and subsequent trampling of the Natives; I myself found a study of the Holocaust. Suffice to say there is something subtle at work where Yancey is looking at invasion, human against human, and showing how awful it is by pitting the whole of humanity together against another species. There’s no real conclusion to it here and indeed it seems more the general assumption of readers that there is this subtext (rather than an obvious sign from Yancey) but as many have seen it it’s something to bear in mind and, whatever it really is, it lifts the book above its narrative, at times giving it an air of literary fiction. It’s just that it’s not enough to keep the book above the narrative in the long run.

The 5th Wave is worth reading if you want something easy and if you’ve read other dystopian Young Adult trilogies and want more of the same (it is fun in that way – the pages fly by), but if you’re after a good alien invasion story you’ll be disappointed.

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September 16, 2016, 3:21 pm

Yes, the pages fly by…which made it worse, because when I got to the end, it was unsatisfying.


September 16, 2016, 4:56 pm

Jeanne: Yes, that is very true.



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