Book review: Devolution by Max Brooks

Title: Devolution by Max Brooks

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Publication date: 16 June 2020

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 320 pages


Goodreads blurb: The #1 bestselling author of World War Z takes on the Bigfoot legend with a tale that blurs the lines between human and beast–and asks what we are capable of in the face of the unimaginable.

As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined . . . until now.

But the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing–and too earth-shattering in its implications–to be forgotten.

In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it.

Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.

Yet it is also far more than that.

Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us–and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I came to Devolution entirely new to both the author and the Bigfoot legend, but with the knowledge that the World War Z film terrified me and that’s what made me want to read Devolution. It’s my first ‘monster horror’ (most I’ve read so far have been more paranormal or psychologically based). And I really enjoyed it! I absolutely flew through Devolution, it’s the kind of book where you start reading and then suddenly notice it’s four hours later and you’re clenched with fear on the sofa.

Devolution is all about the Bigfoot legend. Mount Rainier has just erupted, devasting the North West US. The resulting impact causes a group of animals (Bigfoots) to make their way south, where they encounter a small group of humans living in a new ‘green eco village’ in the middle of nature. What follows is a vicious contest of human vs animal.

Brooks acts as a journalist of sorts, similar to the style (I believe) that he used in his previous novel World War Z. The book is composed of an introduction from Brooks the journalist, and then extracts from a journal from one of the villagers, Kate, an interview with a ranger who discovered the village massacre after the eruption of Rainier, and an interview with Frank, Kate’s brother who is still searching for her. I really love books which have a more unconventional format like this, there’s something really special about horror novels which give you little glimpses into the terrible future through different extracts and interviews. I just get great amounts of pleasure in knowing things are about to get real fucked up, does that make me a bad person? It’s a similar format to one of my favourite books of all time, Into the Drowning Deep, which this reminded me of given the writing style and ‘monster of legend’ feature (though ITDD is much more sciencey).

I thought the first half of the novel in particular was really excellent. As I said above, I started it not knowing what to expect as this was a new type of horror writing, and then I found myself entranced several hours later almost half way through the book and riveted with fear. The initial build up, the unknowing, the noises in the trees, the feeling of someone watching them, it was all done so well. I did find the fear dropped quite a bit once the monsters are revealed and it becomes more gorey fighting horror, and becomes a bit predictable (Sasquatch kills human, humans retaliate, and repeat). I think that’s probably more related to what scares me than anything else, I’m sure other readers will find the opposite.

I enjoyed Kate as our lead character too. She goes through a huge progression across the novel, from anxious wife, to gardener, to weaponsmith. I really liked the idea that catastrophe reveals who you truly are, and watching the characters undergo this transformation was really interesting, with those you disliked at the start becoming your favourites when they transform in the face of danger (hello Carmen). The characters are all quite surface level deep, but I think that was likely intentional. It’s very satirical the way Brooks handles this group of vapid idiots going into nature, assuming nature won’t ever hurt them and thus bringing zero useful supplies, but if she does hurt them then they’ll be saved by “someone” anyway so what does it matter. However unfortunately it does result in you not really being hugely emotionally invested in any of the characters, which obviously makes their deaths a lot less affecting. And I feel like that’s the most important part of horror writing: I need to care about the characters or else the entire lead up to the scary deaths is completely pointless because the resulting ‘end’ just has me going ‘meh’. 🤷

All in all, I think this was a great intro to a new genre of horror for me. I loved the writing style, and found the first half particularly scary and I definitely now want to work up the courage to read World War Z (though after how scared I was of the film, I don’t know if that’ll ever happen – I find zombie movies particularly frightening!!) It was a quick and enjoyable read, but did lack a bit of character development to get me more invested in any of the characters staying alive.

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