Publisher: Del Rey (Trade Paperback – 16 June 2020)
Length: 286 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Get ready for a deeply addictive and exceedingly clever new horror novel based around a classic American legend from highly acclaimed author Max Brooks, Devolution.
Welcome to Greenloop, a sustainable, high-tech town built in the wilds of America. Greenloop is home to a small community of artists and intellectuals, and seems like an ideal place for newcomers Kate Holland and her husband Dan. However, their dreams of a fresh start are shattered when the nearby Mount Rainier erupts, isolating the town from the rest of America and stranding its residents in the middle of woods.
While Greenloop appears to have avoided much of the damage and confusion that the eruption inflected on the rest of America, the inhabitants of the community need to find a way to adapt and survive without any food and resources as winter approaches. However, even as they come together and begin to formulate a plan to endure the harsh conditions, something else comes to Greenloop that is primal and destructive and determined to survive.
Based upon the vivid and detailed journals of Kate Holland that were recovered from the bloody wreckage of Greenloop, this book examines a terrible tale of bloodshed, death and destruction, as ancient creatures of stories and folklore invade. Are the tales contained within these journals real? Find out what happens when the legend of Bigfoot comes to life and once again unleashes its fury on humanity.
Wow, now that was a heck of a lot of fun. Devolution is a captivating and impressive new novel from Max Brooks, who is best known for his iconic zombie novel, World War Z. The moment that I heard Brooks was creating a new horror novel that was focused on Sasquatches, I knew that it was a book that I needed to get myself a copy of, and boy am I glad that I did. Devolution, which was also released as Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, is an impressive and unique release which uses Brooks’s trademark writing style to craft together a captivating and powerful tale of survival and humanity while facing impossible odds. I absolutely absorbed this impressive read, which felt especially relevant for 2020.
In order to tell this distinctive story, Brooks once again utilises the epistolary style that served him so well in World War Z. As a result, Devolution is told using a variety of different sources combined together to make it feel like a history of an alternate version of America where a major volcano erupts impacting the entire country. This non-fiction novel (which I believe is written by that universe’s version of Max Brooks), combines the recovered journal of the novel’s protagonist, Kate Holland, with a number of interviews, historical articles, scientific discussion and background information on some of the inhabitants of Greenloop to create a full account of the events that occurred in the town.
I am a big fan of epistolary novels, although it is often a difficult writing style to utilise successfully. Luckily, Brooks is easily one of the more accomplished users of this writing style, and he was able to craft together an epic and clever horror story in this novel. Devolution contains a well-thought-out and masterfully presented tale that quickly grabs the reader’s attention and does not let go. Brooks does a fantastic job of setting the scene, introducing the characters and then presenting the adversity that they all face. The antagonistic monsters get a good amount of build-up, with signs of their presence providing tension before they make their grand and terrifying appearance. What follows is an exciting and compelling, if somewhat short, third as the protagonists attempt to react to their new reality and effectively fight back. The epistolary elements worked extremely well throughout the book, and I quite enjoyed having all the extra information and backstory they provided as you were going through the main narrative, especially as it attempted to analyse and explain the events that the protagonist was recording. I did think that the story concluded a little too early, and perhaps the book could have benefited from another 50-100 pages at this point (geez, I’m only asking him to increase the length of his book by around a third, I’m not being unreasonable or anything!!). Devolution’s conclusion is rather interesting as well, and I liked some of the resultant uncertainty that surrounds the entire narrative. Overall, this proved to be an intense and exciting story, and I had an absolute blast reading it.
Now let’s talk monsters. Devolution’s most defining feature is its amazing choice of monstrous antagonist in the form of the Sasquatches. As I mentioned above, the moment that I found out that Brooks was going to set a story around a Bigfoot attack in modern America, I knew that I was going to love it. Sasquatches are such an iconic part of American folklore, and all the mystery and obsession that surrounds them serves as a great basis for a horror novel. Brooks really dives into the Bigfoot lore throughout the book, exploring where the legends come from, how they have affected American culture, and the science behind the Sasquatch’s potential existence, all of which is presented to the reader alongside the protagonist’s account of their attack in Greenloop. I thought that the author did an amazing job examining and utilising the Sasquatches in this book, and he paints them as an ancient predator of humankind who, after avoiding us for millennia, are forced by circumstances to devolve and hunt us again. I liked how the author portrayed how similar they are to humans, including their intelligence and group dynamics, especially as these traits are the main reason that they are such an effective and haunting threat. All of this makes for a distinctive and compelling monster for this horror tale, especially as they prove to be a very dangerous and destructive force, and the author’s decision to utilise Sasquatches in this book ended up being a really clever choice.
Another great feature of this book is the characters who inhabit Greenloop and who end up encountering the Sasquatches. Since Greenloop is an experimental, planned, sustainable eco-community, it has naturally drawn a group of intellectual elites and artists to live there. This makes for a diverse bunch of opinionated and arrogant jerks, most of whom are reluctant to go against the group. They of course prove to be extremely unprepared for the events of the book, whether it is the volcano erupting or the attack from the Sasquatches, and they end up making a lot of selfish and stupid mistakes. The only exception to this was Mostar, a blunt older lady with a mysterious past, who has a good read on every other character and is the only one who is prepared for the hardships. She was easily my favourite character, and she had a rather compelling storyline, while also proving to be a major inspiration for the protagonist to step up. The rest of the characters are less appealing, especially at the beginning of the book, and I was kind of rooting for the Sasquatches for a good part of the novel. However, most of them (the ones who survive) do grow on you as the book progresses, and there are some interesting character developments. I also personally liked the way that that these ultra-modern characters, became a little more savage as the book progressed, reverting to more archaic technology and utilising more aggressive tactics, showing that the title, Devolution, can have multiple implications.
One of the more surprising things that I liked about this book was the way in which it resonated with me during the age of coronavirus. One of the major plot points of this book was the fact that the inhabitants of Greenloop find themselves cut off from the outside world due to a volcano. This naturally proved to be a major disruption for their normal lives and they soon find themselves without any new supplies or the ability to communicate with the outside world. Because of this, the characters, particularly the protagonist and her husband, need to adapt to this new situation, and a quite a bit of the story shows how they attempted to survive these unprecedented circumstances. There are some really relatable moments throughout this part of the book, with the protagonists cataloguing food, bemoaning their lack of certain materials, having discussions about where they could get more essentials, as well as examinations of the role of community and the impact of socialisation. Later, when the Sasquatches arrive, you have several scenes where the protagonists hide in their homes and attempt to feel secure within, as they worry about the previously unknown threat that lurks outside. There were also some rather interesting description of the United States government being completely unprepared for the disaster, which in this book is the volcano erupting, and completely blowing their response, the parables of which with the real world are very evident. Naturally, a lot of this felt familiar to me at this point in time, and this aspect of the book proved to be a noticeably compelling addition to the story, especially as it was likely written pre-coronavirus and represents some astute predictions from Brooks.
Overall, Devolution by Max Brooks turned out to be quite a fascinating and clever read, which makes full use of its distinctive monster element to craft a fantastic horror story. I was really impressed with the outstanding narrative, especially as Brooks once again enhanced his tale by turning Devolution into a compelling epistolary novel. This book comes highly recommend, and I cannot wait to see what epic craziness that Brooks comes up with next time.