Author: Rich Larson
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
Genre(s) and Themes: Sci-Fi, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 368 (paperback)
Annex bucks my recent trend of reading books that have strong beginnings and lackluster endings, because I struggled hard with the beginning of this one. The book presents a city that’s been overrun by aliens. The adults have been captured and turned into non-violent, still-breathing zombies, and the children are being rounded up and experimented on. In the midst of this chaos, we follow the lives of a surviving group of children known as the “Lost Boys” who are led by a teen named Wyatt.
I came into the book expecting a sprawling alien invasion epic set on Earth a la Independence Day, except starring children. The reality, however, was rather different. Let’s count the ways, shall we?
- The story gives you zero introduction to the invasion situation.
From the beginning, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a story that was already ongoing and my brain was a whirlwind of questions. Who are these aliens? What have they done with the adults? Is the whole world completely destroyed? Why are they experimenting on children? The book just gives you a coy wink and a smile in lieu of answers, and this drove me crazy.
2. The first half of the book is more like a Peter Pan/Lord of the Flies mashup against an alien invasion backdrop.
I don’t know why it took me nearly half the book to figure this out considering the kids literally call themselves the “Lost Boys.” There’s a lot of focus on the dynamics within this little makeshift family, especially between Wyatt and the two main characters, and much of the beginning is just a recounting of their daily lives as they dodge and fight aliens. The scope is very narrow– because these children know very little about the aliens, we know very little about the aliens.
Once I’d finally made peace with these two points, things started to get a lot more enjoyable. And there is a lot to enjoy in this story. Lawson does action scenes very well-dynamic and exciting–and his descriptions of alien-related creations are fiendishly creepy and imaginative. I especially loved the “othermothers”–creatures made by the aliens to resemble the kids’ mothers, if their mothers had metal insect legs. They gave me heavy Bioshock vibes–kind of like a mix of splicers and Big Sisters.
The characters are a colourful bunch. We have Bo, an eleven-year old boy who recently escaped from the warehouse where the aliens are performing experiments on kids. Unfortunately, he was my least favourite of the cast as I found him lacking in personality and far, far too old for his age. Then there’s Violet, a fifteen year-old trans girl who’s grappling with the fact that she’s free to be whoever she wants for the first time in her life but still mourning the loss of her parents. Her desire for acceptance and love is is something you can’t not empathize with, and her sassy attitude quickly won me over. There’s also Wyatt, leader of the Lost Boys and a Machiavellian rendition of Peter Pan. He’s charming, manipulative, despicable, campy–sometimes all at once–and wholly entertaining. Larson’s eye for snappy dialogue really brings him to life.
Then around the halfway mark, we meet Gloom the saboteur alien, who is hands-down the best character in the book and one of the more interesting side characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this year. Picture slender man in a bowler hat with a facial expression that just looks off. Picture slender man in a bowler hat with the ability to shapeshift. Picture a shape-shifting slender man in a bowler hat with an unintentionally dry sense of humour and an overall endearing personality. That’s Gloom in a nutshell. Is he as awesome as he sounds? You bet. He’s a precious blend of creepy and lovable and he steals pretty much every scene that he’s in.
All in all, Annex turned out to be a fun, fast-paced story that’s very contained and at times claustrophobic. It just took me some time to get settled into it.
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review