WONDERBLOOD, by Julia Whicker, Random House Canada

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Set 500 years in the future, a mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off most of the U.S. population. Those remaining turn to magic and sacrifice to cleanse the Earth.

Wonderblood is Julia Whicker’s fascinating literary debut, set in a barren United States, an apocalyptic wasteland where warring factions compete for control of the land in strange and dangerous carnivals. A mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA’s space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.

When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor’s queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl’s ascent. Politics and survival are at the centre of this ravishing novel.

Out April 2018

BIO8259740

“Julia Whicker is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she won both the prestigious Capote Fellowship and the Teaching-Writing Fellowship. She’s had her poetry published in the Iowa Review, Word Riot and The Millions, among others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A version of the first chapter of Wonderblood was published in the literary journal, Unstuck.

She lives with her husband and daughter in Pennsylvania.”

MY THOUGHTS:

I was sent this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

So…

A world left devastated after an epidemic that destroyed civilization.  In order to flee the ‘plague’ many humans left for space leaving behind a group to fend for themselves. Over the years, what’s left of a structured society crumbles, politics are mutated and religion dominates human existence. This religion is based on the twisted interpretation that the fleeing humans to space will return and save them all. Meanwhile, life goes on on planet Earth.  Human intelligence is warped and IQs seemed to have regressed back to a lessor form, where instincts are relied upon and urges are acted out, including beheadings and rape.

Basically, those that left Earth were the ‘better’ half of man-kind, and what now exists on Earth is the scourge, gutter-rot, and the deprived.  No intelligent humans remains.

Can this be our future?

Sounds good, I’m sold!

Reality:

While the  premise is attractive, this is not what was delivered, in its entirety.  I’ve run across a few books like this, where the writing is actually very good, the premise/synopsis really good and could go somewhere, but, the end result seemed rushed, not completed, and not edited well. You’re left with a hurried piece of work with too many plot issues, which basically is how I’d describe this book. I think the technical end of the work needs to be tweaked before this story should be released. Allow me to explain:

Guts, gore, cringe-worthy content is not enough to sell books, if plot development is lacking, character arcs are incomplete and backstory (this is a dystopian) is missing crucial explanations to help promote pace/and push the MC toward reaching her goals.

This author does have a beautiful writing style and clearly has talent, however, that isn’t enough.

The MC character arc is sketchy, lacks luster and develops poorly and not to a satisfactory point by the time the story ends.

The secondary characters are focused to the point of distraction, losing the MC in the secondary’s slush of  misguided purposes.  The purpose of secondary characters is to help the MC achieve his/her goals.  This doesn’t happen.  By the end of the story, we really don’t know who the MC really is, besides a name, and the secondary characters…there’s so many of them, and hard to keep track of.  There is no development into a fully fleshed out being, full of emotions, quirky characteristics, behaviors, etc. The MC is just there with no real purpose, no real direction or goals clearly outlined.

Next, switching from character to character, without first developing them to fully understand who was whom became a huge problem perplexed by constant confusion as to whom was telling the story. I suppose simply labeling chapters with the character’s name would have solved this problem, but that is clearly not the author’s desire/style for this particular story, or she would have done this. In having the POV switched around like it was, the story was jumpy/choppy and the pace greatly affected.  Nothing is worse than reading something and thinking, what?, then having to go back and re-read everything to see if you missed a point.

Pace in fantasy books, especially filled with a bleak dystopian atmosphere, must be constant, steady and moved along with a flowing transition from one plot element to the next.

World-building was actually  done rather well in this book.  The author had little trouble conveying exactly what had happened to this world and the consequence of a plague.  However, what was lacking, was a time-line consistent with the commentary.  I didn’t really understand the ‘when’ or ‘where’ the disaster took place.  There is talk that the ‘astronauts will return to save them all’ but you really never understand ‘how long’ it’s been since they left.  This should have been established clearly in the first chapter.

Plot turns/twists were never completed to a resolution. They were set up, executed, then ignored or forgotten.  It’s clear that this is to be a series, however, all plot elements must be resolved to a conclusion by the end of the book.  You cannot leave the reader hanging to this extreme and ask them to wait for so many major resolutions to book one’s plot elements in book two. The story-line can continue with elements left unanswered, naturally, but they are not to be major plot issues for an entire book.  After the climax of the story, there has to be resolution and conclusions, ie: Pardoness plot element.

 

Sub-plots must also be resolved to their conclusions.  Beginning a quest and never finishing it by the end of the book… not good.

The ending doesn’t work because of all the unresolved plot and sub-plot issues.  Ending the story on a cliffhanger leaves far too many questions and no answers, the reader will be left feeling cheated, unsatisfied and that they’ve wasted their time on the story.  More than likely, they won’t read the next book or any other work by the author.

The premise demands so much more than what was put out.  It’s unique and enticing, intriguing and I really, really like it.  However, can people really be this stupid? Mmmm, maybe… humans never fail to amaze me as to how ridiculous they can be at times, so why not.  Throughout history, people have done some crazy things in the name of religion and superstitions, so why not keep heads as charms and forbid medicine and surgery? Sadly, the author didn’t divulge enough information as to why (backstory issue) they did this or felt they needed to do this.

I don’t know why people are so surprised by the carnal urges the author writes about.  Our history on this planet is full of similar examples and yet, it astonishes me how so many would rather stick their heads in the sand and pretend these ‘acts’ didn’t happen then, and don’t continue to happen even today.  Sometimes, the truth is hard to face, I guess.

Where Julia Whicker has a great writing style, I’m not sure this genre is for her.  It’s a tough one that requires a lot of information, set-up, major world-building, backstory explanations and perfect character development.  If it’s a series, then it needs a whole lot more, much more than what was seen in this two hundred and eighty-five page book. If you’re not sure what I mean, check out Brandon Sanderson, Stephen R. Donaldson, Mark Helprin, Daniel Kirk, Terry Goodkind, Davis, Gabraldon, Paolini, Dennard, I could go on.

The beginning of the book, must have an incredible ‘hook’ that grabs the reader and makes you want to read more and more.  The MC must be established by the first chapter, with her goals clearly defined or at least shown. I just didn’t see this.

There are “Mad Max” vibes all over this book.  If you don’t like that series, this book may not be for you.  If you did like the series, this book is nowhere near the same quality. There are disturbing triggers that I think should have been explained better and not just added for what appeared to be a simple ‘shock’ factor. After awhile, these became boring, ineffectual and tedious.  I got it–it’s a harsh, barren wasteland where the human deprived now rule. Moving on…

Not often do I see weak beginnings, strong middles and very weak endings. Usually the middle of the book, any book, is the toughest for the writer to write, but not this author.  In this book, the middle of the story is actually where things improve.  You’ll appreciate this, if you make it this far.  Here, you do learn a bit about the social order, the political structure and where the story takes place. You’ll find out what happened to leave the place decimated by plague–all to a point.  Again, the when, why, and how is missing.

You will not be vested in the characters, because they do not develop but remain some-what one-dimensional.  It makes it tough to want to continue this series because you are not made to care about any of them. I think this book should go through another extensive re-write dealing with the major issues of the book and make it what it could be.  I doubt that will happen, so I for one, will not be continuing this series. THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR CHILDREN! OF ANY AGE!

Sadly, I gave this book:

Gold-star-half

 

 

 

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