paradise lost: Wayward by Blake Crouch

Spoiler alert: do NOT read this book (or this review!) unless you have already read Pines, the first novel in the Wayward Pines trilogy. Wayward is the second. It makes absolutely no sense as a standalone story. Now, assuming that I’m not revealing any secrets, here’s how the novel opens . . .

Former Secret Service Special Agent Ethan Burke is now the Sheriff of the small, isolated Idaho town of Wayward Pines. At a casual glance, Wayward Pines is an idyllic settlement, free of poverty, crime, terrorism, or any of the other afflictions of modern civilization. However, with barely fewer than 500 inhabitants, the town is the last human settlement on Earth — and more than 1,800 years have passed since Burke arrived in town. Yes, it’s now the 39th century. Burke’s role is essentially to keep the residents in town in line, preventing them from attempting to escape. In reality, they are all captives, ignorant of the circumstances in which they live.

Wayward (Wayward Pines Trilogy #2) by Blake Crouch @@@@ (4 out of 5)

As Burke learned in his own early attempt to flee, Wayward Pines is surrounded by an electrified fence topped by razor wire and backed by sheer cliff walls. Outside, the new top predators on Earth are “aberrations,” or “abbies,” mutant descendants of the human race with enormous talons and a voracious appetite for flesh. Humans included, of course. Burke’s job, as he sees it, is to keep the residents safe from attack by these vicious creatures. However, that’s not the way it seems to the evil genius who built the town and sent its inhabitants into the far future through suspended animation. That man, David Pilcher, was convinced that human DNA was degrading in the 21st century and that the species would soon go extinct. He was right, as it turned out. To his mind, Burke’s top responsibility is to ensure that none of the inhabitants learn any of this.

As the action slowly unfolds in Wayward, Burke learns more about the extent to which Pilcher controls the lives of its inhabitants — and about the emptiness of the lives they lead. “More and more, he was coming to realize that living in Pines was like living in an elaborate play whose curtain never closed.” A play, he comes to find out, with an underlying reality of extreme, recurring violence. With accelerating suspense, the story rushes forward to what book publicists are fond of calling “a shattering climax.” The author, Blake Crouch, is supremely skilled at turning this highly original if unlikely science fiction story into a thriller that’s impossible to put down.

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