Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers is one of those books that could have been very disappointing. To start, I have been waiting for this book for what seems like a very long time. I actually pre-ordered it, which I don’t do with books all that often– I am generally backlogged enough in my reading that even books that I’ve been looking forward to and whose authors I’m big fans of have to wait for a while for me to get to them. Not this one. I not only preordered it, I specifically timed the books I was reading before it so that I would be free and clear and able to start something new immediately when it showed up in my mailbox. So if it had been bad, there is a strong possibility that I might have cried. Actual book-nerd tears. It woulda been a problem.
Let’s not bury the lede any further: Wanderers is Wendig’s best book, and by a pretty large margin– and, again, remember that this is a guy who I am fond of and whose work has shown up in my end-of-year top 10 before. So this is way better than a bunch of books that I really liked. What’s fascinating about it is how different it is from all of Wendig’s other work. His previous work– which includes multiple Star Wars novels, books that have always sort of had a house style– has always been instantly recognizable: short sentences, present tense, visceral detail, and a certain disregard for strict grammar conventions in favor of impactful language. You can show me a single paragraph from any of Wendig’s previous books and I’d be able to tell you it was his. That recognizable.
Wanderers throws all that out the window. This book must have been a beast to write– not only is it markedly longer than any of his previous books (it’s probably close to twice as long as its closest competitor) but the style of the writing is completely different. I would never have guessed Wendig wrote this from a paragraph or even a chapter, although you certainly see his humor and his themes come through– it is, if this makes any sense, a Wendig book made up of nearly 800 not-very-Wendig pages.
That probably doesn’t make any sense.
So, the plot, and this will be spoiler-free, for the most part: the elevator pitch for this book is “What if Chuck Wendig wrote The Stand,” and those seven words were more than enough to earn my money. To be clear, The Stand is one of Stephen King’s two or three best books, and while I’ll need to read Wanderers a couple more times over the next decade or so to see if it lives up to that book’s very high standard, the comparison is not remotely unfair to either book. This book is about a plague, and the end of the world, and a presidential election, and white supremacists, and it’s about all of those things before we mention the titular Wanderers, people who are locked into their own bodies and sleepwalking … somewhere. The world doesn’t even start ending until like halfway through the book, and the omnipresent sense of dread and horror is thick enough to drag your fingers through, even before the book gets around to one of the scarier human villains I’ve read recently. The book is not stingy with its mysteries, and the way they unfold over the course of its somehow-still-fast-paced 780 pages is immensely satisfying.
I have read 74 books so far this year, and of those 74, 17 are on my shortlist for the end of the year. It’s been a good year for reading! But this is the first book that I’ve read and known beyond a shadow of a doubt that yeah, this one’s gonna be top three. You should read Wanderers, and you should start now.