The phenomenon begins in India. Set in the near future, a man in an outdoor market notices that his shadow has suddenly disappeared. There’s no rhyme or reason, not to mention scientific data, to explain the sudden loss of one’s shadow, but things quickly go from a single isolated incident to a full-blown pandemic when many others around the globe experience the same disturbance. Even worse, those who’ve lost their shadow soon become symptomatic, as their memories slowly but surely evaporate from their minds, never to return.
Doing their best to escape the horrors of what’s been dubbed the Forgetting, Ory and Max fled into the woods. The husband-and-wife duo found refuge in an abandoned hotel site just outside of Arlington, Virginia, where they’ve survived for nearly two years by the time readers meet up with them. Living off of rations and minimal food, their off-the-grid lifestyle is less than glamorous, but at least they have their memories. And they have each other. Beyond the perimeter of their secluded life, the world has changed. Those who lose their shadows suffer from more than just memory loss. Forgetting everything and everyone is inevitable, but so is what follows — the manipulation of reality, where what you forget turns into something terrifying.
As more people are affected, the world changes, until it’s nearly unrecognizable at best, and unthinkably dangerous at worst.
Tragically, even after all the time and effort they’ve put into being careful and isolating themselves away from the changing world, Max loses her shadow. Filled with grief, she begins to resign herself to her fate, something Ory is unwilling to accept. Instead, he frantically begins coming up with ideas to help his wife hold onto her memories, even going as far as to tape record them for safekeeping. Still, Max is worried about hurting Ory, who is far less concerned about himself and desperately looking for ways to help her. Things take a heartbreaking turn when Ory finds his wife missing — and realizes she left to protect him. Devastated, he decides to go after her, risking everything to find the woman he loves.
As the story unfolds, readers get to follow Ory’s adventure through the new world, where he meets and connects with a number of colorful characters, some good and some bad, including members of a rising cult who worship the shadowless. Max, meanwhile, hears rumors of a group in New Orleans who may be working on a cure — providing hope for her and others — and sets out on her own journey heading south.
Beautifully written, Peng Shepherd delivers an extraordinary story about love, hope, the unquenchable search for answers that may never come, and, ultimately, survival. While comparable to Joe Hill’s The Fireman (2016), Shepherd’s universe is bolder and better developed, rich with vivid descriptions and unsettling realities. The characters all have such depth to them that it’s impossible to not become invested in the story, which twists and turns often, taking readers on an emotional ride. . . all while asking one simple question: How far would you go to hold onto the people you love, and your memories with them?
Powerful, chilling, and expertly written, The Book of M balances thrills with honest, thought-provoking questions, and has plenty of raw emotion for readers to relate to. Peng Shepherd’s masterful debut is one for the ages. . . she’s definitely an author to keep an eye on moving forward.
Author: Peng Shepherd
Pages: 496 (Hardcover)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 5, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.