Book of M by Peng Shepherd
Published by William Morrow on June 5th, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Post-Apocalyptic
“There’s a difference between when the mind forgets and the heart does.”
I had no idea what The Book of M was about when my friend shoved her copy of it in my hands. I had seen people compare it to Station Eleven, which made me stay away from that book. Yes, I know! I must be, like, the only person in the world who didn’t like Station Eleven!
One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears. It’s a strange occurrence that science can’t explain. He’s the first, but quickly the phenomenon spreads like a plague. And while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it also comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life almost starts to feel normal, until one day Max loses her shadow too.
Realizing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she’ll become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up on their relationship. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her across an unrecognizable world.
As they both journey, they seek answers: for Ory, he searches for love, survival, and hope; and for Max, she’s trying to get to New Orleans since it may hold the cure.
I found myself captivated by this story of ordinary people fighting for survival in an extraordinary catastrophe.
It was so easy to become invested in the characters, minor and major. But I did find myself really getting excited to find out more about Ory and Max. They made the perfect pair for the emotional core of the book.
Shepherd did such a fantastic job making sure that we saw Ory and Max’s relationship at all different points in time. Not just in relation to the Forgetting or when Max loses her shadow.
Even the tiniest thing like having a phrase the two of them repeated to keep Max’s mind sharp was very sweet. It had an impact throughout the book. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this call and response: “Blue.” “Fifty-two.”
The idea to have Max record her thoughts to help her remember was really sweet as well. I loved how it gave us context into her mind as she’s fighting to keep her memories.
The magic in this book is a pretty remarkable literary device. Sometimes, it’s used to create images of humans feeling free and uninhibited. But Shepherd ultimately uses it to depict horrific images.
The magic system can be seen as an obvious commentary on memory loss, but it also lends itself to a more nuanced look at memory itself. What happens when we have to interact with physical manifestations of a person’s memory? What happens when that manifestation perceive the world differently than we do?
The memory means more, the more it’s worth to you—and to who you are.
I’m a huge fantasy reader. It’s probably my most-read genre. And that means I’m constantly reading up about different magic systems and learning the rules about them. Unfortunately, I remember being taken out of the book at certain parts because the logic of the magic system didn’t add up.
At times, Shepherd would write about The Forgetting and its subsequent magic in one chapter, and then change its power and logic in another. It’s a great literary device that doesn’t hold up throughout the book.
Since it’s a book about all roads leading to one place, it felt like the book picked up at breakneck speed near the end.
The pacing was incredibly awkward at times. It dragged in the middle, but accelerated so quickly near the end. It almost felt like Shepherd all of a sudden knew that she had to wrap things up.
But if you can ignore that, it’s all worth it. When you get to Part V, and especially that haunting and heartbreaking last chapter, you will cry.
But even if I never say it, it’s real, because a thing does not have to be said to be real. It just has to be remembered.
I stayed up way too late trying to understand and unpack the ending’s impact on the entire book. It managed to bring together all the themes in the book.
If you love post-apocalyptic books, then you will love this. It’s probably the most emotionally impactful one I’ve read yet in the genre. It’s a powerful and sweeping book that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.