Wonderblood by Julia Whicker
Set 500 years in the future, a mad cow-like disease called "Bent Head" has killed off most of the U.S. population. Those remaining turn to magic and sacrifice to cleanse the Earth.
Wonderblood is Julia Whicker's fascinating literary debut, set in a barren United States, an apocalyptic wasteland where warring factions compete for control of the land in strange and dangerous carnivals. A mad cow-like disease called "Bent Head" has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA's space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.
When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor's queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl's ascent. Politics and survival are at the centre of this ravishing novel.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Wonderblood has one of the darkest and most fascinating world building structures I’ve ever seen in a dystopia. It’s dark and bloody and creepy. A religion has sprouted over the idea of the space shuttles and that they will come back to Earth and rescue everyone, and there will be a new day dawning, one of Hope and Mercy. The setting and the Carnivals and the astronomical focus of the government at Cape Canaveral is fascinating.
No, scratch that. It is so freaking dark and amazing.
Unfortunately, that is where the amazingness of Wonderblood ends. The story is told from three points of view as mysterious, unplotted lights appear in the sky. Are they comets? Are they meteors? Are they the shuttles? Spoken in turns between Aurora who is thought to be a sigil of the end of this world, John the court astronomer, and Mavel the Heirophant, the reader watches as Cape Canaveral slowly disintegrates as various people lay out their cards and act out their beliefs upon the lights.
Aurora is a child bride, more or less raped, and branded at various points in the story. John can’t make up his mind about what he wants. Marvel meant to kill someone but didn’t and now wants to go back and finish the job. While I didn’t care for any of the narrators, Marvel’s whole storyline is chaos, because as far as I could tell, it wasn’t at all relevant to the story.
There are decent characters in the sidelines – I wanted to learn more about the Green Butterfly and more about Queen Allyson. Orchid had potential, but it was squandered on hero worship of her husband. Tygo would have been a decent unreliable narrator, but he is instead in the stands and thrown about to further John and Marvel’s plots.
Most frustrating of all, we wait the entire book for this build up of a war, and to find out what the lights in the sky were… and then the book ends abruptly in the middle of everything. I am so, so frustrated.
I really, really, really loved this world. Honestly, I did. I was fascinated by the religion that grew around distant memories of space exploration, and the execution carnivals, and the blood rain. I wanted more of that. I wanted to see a really incredible story in this world. I think Julia Whicker has a fabulous imagination and a real knack for world building, but the storytelling just wasn’t there.
Wonderblood will be released on April 3, 2018
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