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 called Transcendence 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.
The Book of M is Peng Shepherd’s debut novel, and it left me absolutely speechless. I’ve just turned the last page, and I’m not even sure what words are right now.
This book is enchanting, mesmerising, and utterly captivating from the first line to the last. Everything about this story feels meaningful. The concept of shadows being linked to memories is beyond perfect. What is a memory except a shadow of the past we carry with us? What if that shadow were to disappear? What would be left of us?
I won’t spoil the plot, but events unfold from multiple points of view. Expect several surprises as subplots intersect, and get ready to lose yourself in a sweeping tale that grows more and more epic, but feels personal and somehow grounded. It’s at once intimate and expansive, and never less than riveting.
The fantasy elements are imaginatively interwoven with the world to subvert the usual post-apocalyptic tropes, and the magic of the story has a folklore quality about it. A deer can sprout wings instead of antlers because someone forgot what antlers were. Entire cities can change their shape because a shadowless person misremembered it that way. There’s a limitless scope to this magic which feels visceral and thrilling.
I could go on about the invention, the mythology, the concepts, and the depth, but really, it wouldn’t be doing justice to the book, because while all these aspects of the story are admirable, they’re not really what this book is about. This is a story about people. Specifically, Ory and Max. It’s about the enduring love of a couple who are separated at the outset, and the quest they each take to save each other. And for that reason, there’s something heartfelt about their struggles. Their journey stirred a compulsion that made me crave the next page just to see what happened, but also made me want to linger in every sentence and soak it all up.
I felt things in this story which I’ve never experienced in a book before. Get ready for feels, feels, and even more feels. And as for the ending — this has one of the most impactful final lines to a book ever. It’s the kind of climax that makes you want to grab someone you love, hold them close, and hug it out. It’s stunning.
The Book of M is a masterpiece. It’s elegant, insightful, haunting, and will stay with you long after the final page. This is a story that, even if you lose your shadow, would be impossible to forget.
Unmissable. Unbelievable. Unforgettable.
Even though this is Peng Shepherd’s debut, it’s the third of her books I’ve read and reviewed this year, which means I’ve now caught up with all her stories currently available, and she hasn’t put a single word wrong in any of them. Peng Shepherd is the real deal, and I cannot wait to see what she’s got for us all next.
Click here to read my review of her award-winning shorter work, The Future Library.
Here’s a link to my review of her latest book, The Cartographers.