The world has changed. We saw this in Josh Malerman’s novel, Bird Box, but the sequel, Malorie, dives even deeper into what those changes mean and how people can move forward in such a drastically changed world.
For those of you who haven’t read it in a while, or missed the Netflix movie adaptation (which works really well as all the primer you need for this sequel), I’ll briefly recap the world. Mysterious beings known only as “the creatures” have arrived and simply glancing at them is enough to make anyone “go mad” which normally results in some murderous outbursts followed by suicide. No one knows why, and all attempts to figure it out are met with the same result. Thus, the only way to survive is to go about blindfolded.
The story ends after a harrowing trip up the river found Malorie and the children arrive at the School for the Blind. It was a safe enough haven for Malorie to finally feel comfortable in giving them names, Olympia and Tom, and giving her hope that things could finally be better for their trio…Sadly, it couldn’t last.
Malorie (the novel) kicks off as an incident at the school has resulted in madness (only two years after showing up) and the family must find a new home…Don’t worry, this all happens within the first couple pages and set the stage for the rest of the novel, so these aren’t really spoilers. The bulk of the book takes place ten years after their escape, where the kids are now teenagers, their entire lives spent in this new world.
Malorie herself continues to “live by the fold” almost never removing her blindfold and imposing harsh rules the kids have to live by. Like any other teenagers, however, they’re eager to buck the system and do their own thing. In a post-apocalyptic world, where the creatures not only continue to roam but have greatly expanded their numbers, it’s not easy.
When a man claiming to be from the “census” arrives unexpectedly on their doorstep, the world changes once more. The paperwork he leaves behind reveals details on the outside world, promising tantalizing progress, a working train, and even a list of survivors (it is a census after all).
While Malorie is content to stay in the abandoned campground they’ve utilized for the past decade, the appearance of her parents’ names on the list of survivors proves too tempting to ignore. Having assumed their deaths during the early days of the creatures’ arrival, Malorie is unsure how to process the idea that she has family still alive beyond the one she’s made herself. Even fearing it’s a ploy, Malorie and the kids embark on a journey to uncover the truth.
Leaving behind all they know, they take the “blind train.” While the world is starting to open up once again in the wake of the creatures’ arrival, Malorie must figure out where she fits in with this new world, and whether or not her obsessive behavior will continue to protect her teens, or push them away…
To be honest, this is a tough review to write while avoiding spoilers. There are a lot of smaller moments in the story that have stuck with me, but even those feel like they could ultimately ruin it for someone else wanting to dive into it. On the surface, the novel seems fairly straightforward. The quest to find her parents is filled with new perils and unexpected encounters. The real appeal of this novel, and where it shines, is how even the smallest moments make you feel deeply and will keep you thinking long after you’ve turned the final page.
This is truly a story where the journey itself is what makes it engaging. While there is another overarching plot thread it builds towards, it almost feels ancillary to seeing how Malorie and her kids work through things together. Despite the title, the novel is just as much Olympia and Tom’s story.
Tom prides himself as an inventor and longs to find a way to impact the larger world, or just LIVE. Having grown up with no knowledge of what the world was like before the creatures, he chafes under Malorie’s rules and wonders at what he could be missing. Meanwhile, his sister Olympia seeks to mediate and strike a balance between the two opposing forces, while holding onto her own secrets. Their dynamic makes for some engaging encounters and ultimately helps drive the tension/story ever forward.
Speaking of tension, the novel does a great job of making the creatures, and the world, feel like a palpable threat at nearly every page. Despite so much of the story being on them moving about (not even quickly) it’s an impressive bit of writing that even those minor, everyday tasks, manage to feel threatening. At many points, it feels like you barely have time to ‘breathe’ in the story, and the few instances you do are as much a relief for readers as it is for the characters. Not only does this make the connection between us and those in the story stronger, it makes it incredibly hard to put down.
Of course, part of this is helped by the fact we’re currently living through our own kind of pandemic. Even though we’re not up against extra-dimensional beings, Malorie’s rules and constant mantra of “don’t get lazy” feels especially poignant with all that’s going on right now. It speaks to the overall themes of the novel, which continually asks whether it’s possible to live your life while still adapting. It’s a heady theme to begin with, but feels more important than ever right now.
It’s a gripping thriller that had me flipping the pages long into the night. That said, it’s not without a couple minor issues. Namely…the ending. Again, I won’t get into spoilers, but there are several aspects in how the story wrapped up which feel incredibly rushed.
The bulk of the book is dedicated to their traveling, so it seemed strange that so many revelations and story points were dealt with in just the final 20-15 pages. Considering the slower pace of everything preceding, it felt like having whiplash, and left me with more than a handful of lingering questions. In some ways, I’m not entirely sure they “stuck the landing” with this ending, but the journey to get there is so damn compelling I don’t think I care.
Even with that issue, I ultimately finished the book with the feeling that I can’t wait to see what comes next in this world. There are a lot of possibilities for where the Bird Box story can go and I’d love to see that explored.