After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey shows a lot of promise with its intriguing premise and seemingly refreshing take on aliens invading the Earth. I read this book because everyone raved on about it, and following the release of the trailer, I became curious. I wanted to get on that hype train and ride it all the way to fandom.
This book isn’t a terrible book, but it isn’t a great book either. There are certainly some things to praise, but I found so many things that curtailed my enjoyment of this book. Unfortunately the former was outweighed by the latter. I don’t dislike this book to the point of strong, passionate opinion. For me, The 5th Wave is a disappointed sigh, a ‘yeah, well, it was alright I suppose, well not really but that’s okay’ with a demoralized shrug.
Post-apocalyptic is a particularly interesting genre for me. For one, because they are either a hit or miss for me, and two, because you can get very creative with the post-apocalypse. Do you want your book to be action-packed and about the survival of the fittest? Go for it. Maybe a philosophical analysis on human nature when society and law have been decimated? Go crazy. Or perhaps an introspective novel about the capacity and limitations of an individual’s agency in such horrible, otherworldly circumstances? Do it.
Alas, I found The 5th Wave mediocre. It was only when I was 65% into the book that it started to interest me, but the book thereafter felt more like an obligatory sprint to the finish, rather than a journey I wanted to partake in. The 5th Wave doesn’t have to meet my criteria above to be a fantastic book. In fact, The 5th Wave makes an attempt to be all three. Unfortunately when the book tries, it tries too hard and presents a contrived inquiry that lacks any depth and assumes that philosophical, ‘heavy-handed’ statements on ‘humanity’ suffice as analysis. When it doesn’t try, the questions are abandoned, forsaken for a red herring that ends up being sort of weird anyway.
The intrigue of the novel is heavily dependent on its context, the ‘colonialist aliens eradicating humanity with a series of Waves’. To a point, I enjoyed this aspect. The Waves and their mechanisms were genuinely fascinating, and I felt compelled and engaged. The issue is that when that’s the only point of interest and plot moves onto other things, the momentum falters. It started to get boring and repetitive. It gave me a headache.
The problem is that in a genre that is saturated with these ideas, it’s critical to bring something new to the fray. The 5th Wave is devoid of any originality. It takes existing post-apocalyptic themes and motifs from greater works, and rehashes the plot devices and tropes into something we have already seen before (i.e. The Day The Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twelve Monkeys, The Matrix, War of the Worlds, Ender’s Game, the list goes on).
If there is anything that I have learned about post-apocalyptic narratives, it is that if you put all your money on the cause of the apocalypse to make an awesome story, your story will inevitably lose its awe. You pull a reader into a world where the aliens are exterminating humans, but when the violence and death in a story becomes normalized, readers too will habituate to the catastrophe. The aliens are killing us. So what? The genre is saturated with these narratives of violence and death; there is nothing new with its ideas of total annihilation in The 5th Wave, and it fails to build on our familiarity with the apocalyptic imagination.
In extension to its lack of originality, it is also completely predictable. Probably the most predictable thing I have read in a long time. It is ridden with cliches and tropes and when a story becomes contingent on them, any excitement or anticipation is replaced by ‘and now this is going to happen… and there it is’. The worst was Evan Walker, a.k.a. Mr Tropeiest of Tropes. Three sentences in and what will be revealed in 80 or so pages will be as clear as day. I don’t say this lightly, but his characterization made me want to bash my head in. It was ridiculous. It made me laugh in a “I give up on everything” sort of way. It makes you wonder what was the point of building up all that suspense for it to amount to nothing, especially since it pans out exactly how you think it will. Actually, it just makes you wonder what’s the point.
To an extent, I liked Cassie as a narrator and protagonist. If disaster ever befalls on the world and I (miraculously) survive, I will probably cope like she does – with cynical, deadpan humour. And then walks in Evan Walker who singlehandedly destroys Cassie’s character development. Well, there it goes. Critique for Evan and the romance have been discussed ad nauseam, so all I’ll say was that their relationship was completely hinged on the abnormality of Evan’s circumstances that it obfuscated the strangeness of their relationship.
On the children being soldiers thing – I understand the reason behind it. Empty children of their fear and innocence, and fill them with indoctrination; people are biologically programmed to protect children, not kill them; an army’s force lies not in its strength, but in its cohesion and righteousness — you get the idea. But as others have pointed out, the whole thing doesn’t really make sense – why kill all the adults and make the children soldiers? And if the aliens really have been watching us for thousands of years, surely they would have developed a way to brainwash adults? (Or do the aliens watch humanity’s downfall like a reality TV show with forced drama and manufactured realism? Maybe the aliens watched The Hunger Games and thought it was cool.)
Despite my lengthy criticisms, there were a few things that I liked. I particularly enjoyed Zombie’s narrative, whose circumstances were a breath of fresh air from Cassie’s inane chapters. Maybe if Zombie was the protagonist, The 5th Wave would have been far more interesting and I might have liked it more. There was an exploration of the mechanisms of war – that war isn’t just killing people, but it is the industrialization of death, a revelation that drives a soldier mad. The results are terrifying.
Also, I liked Ringer.
The 5th Wave is ultimately disappointing and fails to contribute anything to the post-apocalyptic genre. With its take on the alien invasion, this book has potential and could have, very easily, been something original and compelling. Instead, it is cliche after cliche after cliche. With a book that drones on and on about humanity like readers are not capable of self-awareness, this book lacks any humanity or life. With so many books to read, I don’t think I will be continuing with this series.
Note about the movie (that has nothing to do with the book itself and my rating): I watched the trailer again after reading this book. Maybe it’s my distaste for this book that’s influencing my opinion, but The 5th Wave movie adaptation looks like it’ll be another disaster porn movie with bullet rains and explosions guaranteed. Also, Ringer (who is 3/4 Asian and 1/4 Apache) is played by a white actress. The only character I like gets white-washed. Greaaaaaaaaaaat. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Book Name: The 5th Wave
Book Series: The 5th Wave #1
Author: Rick Yancey
Publisher: Penguin Books