The Book of M – Peng Shepherd

Synopsis: One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

“Naz smiled, despite the grim mood. He was right. The morning had that peculiar kind of stormy light that was bright enough to illuminate the landscape, but so lifeless it sucked the shadows from everything except the deepest, most narrow corners of the world. Everything was there, but two-dimensional.”

Zero Shadow Day, the real life festival that happens twice a year in India, celebrates when the sun is directly overhead on a specific latitude. So you do not see your shadow or the shadow of anything around you for a few exciting moments. It’s a perfectly explained scientific reason. However, have you ever imagined what it would be like to lose your shadow indefinitely? That’s what happens in The Book of M. It begins with Hemu Joshi, a customer service representative at a call center in India who becomes the first person to lose his shadow. But this is not all he ends up losing. Next his memories begin to fade away. Then his humanity.. 

He is not the only one who has been inflicted with this mysterious medical anomaly. People in another town start losing their shadows shortly after. Soon, it becomes a pandemic where more & more people are succumbing to The Forgetting disease around the world.

What happens when one loses all of their memories? Are you still the person you once were? Are you still.. you? The Book of M explores these ideas. What it is like to, well, lose your fucking mind. It’s a scary thought.

“There’s a difference between when the mind forgets and the heart does.” 

We follow four main characters who have survived the initial outbreak. They are trying to stay alive in a world that is dissenting into chaos. Ory & Max are a married couple who are at a friend’s wedding in the US when Joshi loses his shadow. They end up living in the wilderness for a few years, until one day Max’s shadow disappears. Max freaks the hell out, as one would expect, so she runs away leaving Ory to search for his missing wife. Naz is in Boston, training for the Olympics as an archer. She eventually leaves with her sister & joins up with a group of the “Shadowed” who believe that books are the cure to this disease. I think many of us would be tempted to get in with this group, at least at first. Just saying! Then there is The Amnesiac, a man who suffered from amnesia after a car accident prior to The Forgetting. Doctors believe he may hold the key to understanding how one can overcome memory loss.

The Book of M is an ambitious first novel. It doesn’t fit into any one genre – it’s equal parts horror, science fiction & magical realism. With a large focus on Max & Ory’s love, adding yet another dimension to the story. The characters are wonderfully diverse & fleshed out, yet the POV shifts at times felt jarring. There’s a haunting dread that lurks underneath within the first half of the book, which had absolutely enthralled me. Yet somewhere towards the middle, it starts to go off the rails. A lot. It feels as though you are caught in this fever dream, slowing the pace down drastically. It all comes to an end in this outlandish, silly way. Which is a shame, because the bones of this story have the ability to become something brilliant.

It was just lacking in execution for me, overall.

-Holly

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