I’ve heard good things about this book in various places, but I put it on my TBR list after listening to episode 17 of the What Should I Read Next podcast. I decided it had been a while since I’d read a post-apocalyptic book and it was time to check it off my reading list.
Genre: post-apocalyptic fiction
Length: 333 pages
Setting: various places in North America, near future
Summary: The story starts out at a Toronto production of King Lear. Arthur, the actor playing Lear, has a heart-attack onstage. Later that night, we find out a particularly virulent strain of the flu has hit Toronto and is killing people quickly. We then spiral between the lives of people associated with Arthur before the flu, and survivors from 20 years after the pandemic. In the post-flu story, we mostly focus on Kirsten, an actor in the Traveling Symphony, an itinerant group of musicians and actors. The Traveling Symphony has just encountered the Prophet in St. Deborah by the Water. That encounter pushes the Symphony south of their usual route toward Severn City and their mythical museum of pre-flu technology. In the flashbacks, we see how all the characters are connected and how some of them survived the onset of the flu.
Final thoughts: Such a good book – it totally deserves the praise it receives (at least in my opinion). I loved the way Mandel jumped back and forth in time so you could see how the hopes and fears of the past and present played out in the future, post-pandemic world. The characters were all connected in different ways and Emily doled out the stories of those connections slowly. Whenever a new connection was made in the story, it gave me a little glow of happiness to figure it out.
I loved the idea of a traveling symphony and Shakespeare theater group. The world was sent back to pre-industrial days, so musicians and actors would need to travel. The only part I think Emily got wrong in the post-pandemic world was the lack of renewable energy, particularly in the form of solar energy. There’s enough people going off-grid now, and I think at least some of that tech would last 20 years. She addressed the lack of gasoline-powered anything, but not that. But, that’s a small quibble in an overall great story that rewards a close read.
Awards won: the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015
Title comes from: A comic book given to Kirsten by Arthur during the King Lear production that was created by his wife.
Reading challenges fulfilled: book #57 for the year
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