Verdict: Fairly wonderful.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Published by HarperCollins, June 28th, 2018
In the middle of a market in India, a man’s shadow disappears. As rolling twenty-four-hour news coverage tries to explain the event, more cases are discovered. The phenomenon spreads like a plague as people learn the true cost of their lost part: their memories.
Two years later, Ory and his wife Max have escaped ‘the Forgetting’ by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods in Virgina. They have settled into their new reality, until Max, too, loses her shadow.
Knowing the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to the person most precious to her, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up what little time they have left before she loses her memory completely, and desperately follows her trail.
On their separate journeys, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a mysterious new force growing in the south that may hold the cure. But neither could have guessed at what you gain when you lose your shadow: the power of magic.
A breathtakingly imaginative, timeless story that explores fundamental questions about memory and love—the price of forgetting, the power of connection, and what it means to be human when your world is turned upside down.
I love books that are not easily classifiable – and this is just that. It is speculative fiction but also incorporates a feeling of magical realism, it is a romance (and it is really not), it is just absolutely lovely. I adore the premise above all else: at some point in the not so distant future people start losing their shadows and with them, slowly but inexorably, their memories. First the small things but then bigger and bigger things until they forget to breath. With the loss of memories come weird powers: if a person without a shadow remembers something wrong, that thing becomes just so. Peng Shepherd uses this to create achingly beautiful scenes that edge on unsettling.
The book is told from four perspectives:
- Orlando Zhang (Ory), whose wife has just lost her shadow and left him behind, is single-minded in his pursuit of his wife,
- Max, his wife, is losing her memories and keeps recording herself speaking to her husband to make sure she does not remember him wrong,
- Mahnaz Ahmadi, an Iranian archer, is stuck in Boston, far away from her family and most importantly her younger sister.
- The Amnesiac has lost his memory in an accident and as such has a unique understanding of memory loss and its effects on sense of self.
My favourite parts by far were those concerned with Max – her journey into forgetting is mesmerizing and her resilience is wonderful. Spending time in her head made what was happening on a grander scale much more personal and affecting. I also loved spending time with Ahmadi – I love sibling relationships anyways and hers just made me weepy. The Amnesiac’s story at points had a feeling of fairy tale, which obviously I adored. My problem lay with Ory (and his perspective encompasses the bulk of this book) – he did not feel like a fully formed person to me. For most of the book he is single-minded in his pursuit of Max, never pausing, never considering her as a person in her own right, to be honest. I have some spoilery thoughts that might explain this but even so, I never really got along with his point of view – even though some of the most stunning scenes were from his perspective.
Overall, I adore the way Peng Shepherd structured her book – I am often a huge fan of multiple perspectives and here they are handled expertly and with a brilliant sense of timing. I thought her language flowed beautifully and her imagination is just breathtaking, many scenes unfolding cinematically in the best possible way. Her use of imagery and colour really added to this already wonderfully layered story.
I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.