Review: The Book of M – Beauty at the End of the World

The Book of M

Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 5th, 2018
Genre(s): Post-Apocalyptic, Fantasy
Page Count: 496 (hardcover)

Rating: 8.5/10




Post-apocalyptic books and I have somewhat grown apart in the last few years. These days, if I want my daily dose of doom and gloom, I just pop open Twitter; I don’t exactly find myself reaching for it in fiction. And in most of these stories, you’re presented with a dichotomy: you get a setting that’s bleak and grim and fraught with danger; and you get small glimpses of hope and beauty in the actions of the characters who are trying to survive it. The latter–however small or brief it may be–is what keeps the story from getting too unbearable. But these days, for me, those tiny rays of hope just aren’t enough to dispel the misery of the setting.

Peng Shepherd, however, does something with the genre I haven’t seen before, and that’s inject magic and wonder into a post-apocalyptic world.

The Book of M presents a near future where people’s shadows have begun to disappear. And with the loss of their shadows, they begin to forget. And as they forget, the world changes. Literally. You’ve forgotten that your house is supposed to have a front door? Well, now it’s gone. You’ve forgotten that animals aren‘t supposed to be able to converse with humans? Oh look, a talking bird. It’s almost like something out of a children’s fairytale–“And one day, some of the shadows decided they longer wished to be attached to the humans. And so they tugged and tugged and out they popped free, ready to have adventures of their own!”

What I love is that this is a world that’s being destroyed not by zombies or nuclear warfare, but by memories. And there’s such beauty in the way that the world is breaking. It’s in the winged deer that our characters encounter. It’s in the malformed cities and altered landscapes. It’s in the notion that our memories are so powerful, the loss of them shifts the very fabric of our universe. As the characters’ situations become more and more dire, the magical aspect becomes more and more frequent and potent, and some of the last scenes in the book are ones straight out of high fantasy. It’s spellbinding stuff.

But there’s also horror to the story. Because I think there are few things more frightening than having the world we know slowly scrubbed away until all that’s left is a vague suggestion of an outline. And what happens when you forget a specific detail of a loved one’s face? What happens when you forget that your sister had actually survived that terrible car crash all those years ago? Shepherd takes the real-life terror of Alzheimer’s and gives it an extra set of fangs, wings, and the ability to breathe fire. The result is as chilling as it is fascinating.

As we follow the point-of-view of four characters–Ory, his wife Max, Naz, and a mysterious man known as “The One Who Gathers”–in their journey across this changed America, we encounter many strange and frightening things, from cults and scavengers to a moving lake. The characters are all complex and diverse, and while I have mixed feelings about the direction that some of their relationships took, their interactions are, for the most part, quite compelling. Really, my biggest criticism is the sheer number of travel sequences, which I don’t particularly enjoy in any genre.

In the end, The Book of M is a haunting story that explores the power of memories and human connections that I recommend to both lovers and haters of post-apocalyptic fiction. It iterates the idea that we are, all of us, sums of all the people whose lives we have touched–the names and faces that etch onto our minds and form the foundation of our selves.

And it asks: what are you willing to sacrifice to hold onto them?

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thebookwormdrinketh June 30, 2018 - 1:10 pm

This sound AMAZING!! What a unique concept. I’m with you on the whole “I’m over post-apocalyptic” I feel like there was just an explosion of these books and I had to wade myself out of the tidal wave of them. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention though! It sounds lovely! 💖🍻

pcochrun June 30, 2018 - 1:19 pm

Excellent review!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:39 am

Thank you! 🙂

Captain's Quarters June 30, 2018 - 1:42 pm

Oh glad to see a review of this one. I have had this book on the radar for quite some time. I am glad it is worth the read. I have to get a hold of this one. Lovely review matey. Arrr!
x The Captain

Kristin @ Kristin Kraves Books June 30, 2018 - 1:47 pm

I recently bought this book and I am so excited about it! So happy you enjoyed it! Awesome review!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:39 am

Ahhh thank you!! And I hope you enjoy it as well! <3

Tammy June 30, 2018 - 2:21 pm

This sounds so good, forgetting things is certainly at the top of my list of things I’m terrified of, so this would probably make a huge impact on me.

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:39 am

It’s definitely a bit of an emotional rollercoaster! I was uneasy throughout the early part of the story, but then the really cool fantasy stuff appeared and I got excited. But then it dropped me back to being horrified near the end. 😀

elnadesbookchat June 30, 2018 - 4:00 pm

I’ve been seeing this book floating around on people’s TBR, but this is the first review I’ve seen. I was interested before, but now I think I am even more interested in reading it. Losing memories would be scary and I am interested in seeing how the author plays the story out. Is this a stand alone or a series?

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:35 am

It’s a standalone! I think memory loss is a hard topic to tackle in a fantasy/scifi, without coming across as gimmicky, but the author does a really good job at making it interesting but also respectful.

jennifertarheelreader June 30, 2018 - 5:46 pm

Kathy, your review is lovely! Your last paragraph- ahh! I am intrigued by this, especially because you said it’s even for non-post apocalyptic fans…and the whole Alzheimer’s angle. I’m adding! ♥️

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:32 am

Thank you for the kind words, Jennifer! <3 The book is definitely in a genre of its own. I hope you enjoy it whenever you get to it!

waytoofantasy June 30, 2018 - 10:55 pm

Oh, love this review. This one sounds absolutely fascinating. Definitely adding to my list.

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:19 am

Just the sheer originality of it is incredible!

erinheit451 July 1, 2018 - 6:32 am

This sounds kinda fabulous and I have added it to my TBR pile, great review!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:17 am

Thank you! And you won’t regret it! 🙂

ashleyinwonderland July 1, 2018 - 2:14 pm

I am already in love with this book. I MUST get myself a copy asap. Incredible review!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:16 am

Thank you!! I’ve seen people comparing it to Station Eleven quite a bit, so I figure you’ll REALLY like it, Ashley. 🙂

Lucille July 1, 2018 - 9:36 pm

This sounds so GOOD!!!
I lowered it on my tbr just a bit though because I heard people talk about the bury your gay trope :(( this is too bad!
I love travel sequences so I guess according to your review I should really like this book haha! thank you for the review!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 2, 2018 - 11:12 am

Yeaaaahh that’s an issue I’m on the fence about. Like, the trope does* happen, but there are a lot of people who also die, so I didn’t feel like the book was specifically targeting queer characters. But their deaths *are* kind of prominent…Overall, I wasn’t too bothered, but others might definitely feel differently!

Lucille July 2, 2018 - 4:50 pm

I understand! I guess the problem might be that they were the only queer people in the novel? Still, I think I’ll give it a go sometimes this summer if I can find time 😀

maddalena@spaceandsorcery July 2, 2018 - 11:04 am

What an unusual premise indeed! It shows you don’t need monsters or cataclismic events to create anxiety… Thanks for sharing!

Gerry@TheBookNookUK July 2, 2018 - 4:53 pm

Good review! I just went to add this onto my Goodreads TBR and have found that I’ve already added it. After this review I’m looking forward to reading it even more.

Dani @ Perspective of a Writer July 2, 2018 - 10:41 pm

Awesome review! An unique premise even non-post apocalyptic fans… the Alzheimer’s angle and the idea of lost memories could be very scary. ♥️ Have to add the book to my TBR!

Justine July 4, 2018 - 5:15 am

I keep seeing this book pop up lately but never heard of it until now. This sounds so interesting!! I thought it sounded dream-like and very much up my alley, and then you mentioned how it’s a take on Alzheimer’s and now I’m so so curious.

Kaleena @ Reader Voracious July 4, 2018 - 5:17 pm

Wonderful review!

auroralibrialis July 4, 2018 - 6:40 pm

Wow, what a beautiful review! I’ve never been a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, cause the worlds are always to bleak for my tastes, but this sounds wonderful and strange. I’m excited to read it!

June 2018 Wrap-Up – Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 5, 2018 - 6:51 am

[…] ➽ The Book of M by Peng Shepherd: (8.5/10) A post-apocalyptic fantasy story that sketches out a world where people are losing their shadows, and with the loss of their shadows, they also lose their memories. It’s poignant, magical, and the worldbuilding is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a post-apocalypse story. I’ll never look at my shadow the same way ever again. Review here. […]

At the Moment #2 – Aurora Librialis August 15, 2018 - 4:25 pm

[…] know how I feel about dystopians (#rubble), but after reading Kathy’s beautiful review, I just had to read this one and so far it’s exceeded all my expectations. It’s got the […]

arubunwritten September 18, 2018 - 2:59 pm

I, like you, have also gone off dystopia recently but this sounds so interesting – the fantastical elements sounds so enticing. I can definitely imagine it being in parts magical and in parts horrible. Wonderfully written review, I look forward to reading this book.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 19, 2018 - 3:26 pm

Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy it. 🙂 It’s probably the most creative thing I’ve read this year (and I also read a story about Jesus and his best friend going on a spiritual sabbatical).


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