Malorie by Josh Malerman
Published by Orion, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
One of your favourite books getting a previously unplanned sequel is always going to be met with a strange mix of excitement and nerves. Though this never reaches the same level of dread as the original Bird Box, and requires more than a little suspension of disbelief, it is still a fun, thrilling read that successfully builds on the first book’s strongest themes and ideas, thus making it feel like a worthwhile, if flawed, follow up.
The time jump of ten years between the end of Bird Box and the beginning of Malorie works well in several ways. Chiefly, it allows Malerman to explore the same key question established in book one from a newer, more nuanced perspective: Is it enough to merely survive if you cannot truly live? One of my favourite aspects of the original book was the complex moral dilemmas its heroine was forced to navigate in order to keep her children alive. Did her extreme measures make her cruel or simply a good mother in the new, dangerous world? Now teenagers, her children are well equipped to survive in their post-apocalyptic setting, but they are also resentful and less willing to follow Malorie’s rule unquestioningly. Pushing back against their mother’s strict regime, and captivated by rumours of a different, freer way of living, tensions rise between the trio when they are once again forced to traverse the barren landscape, populated by mysterious creatures, the mere sight of which drives the viewer to instant, murderous insanity.
There’s also a great sense of continuity in Malorie’s character development, facilitated in part by the passage of time between books. By now, she is clearly a hardened survivor, but so too is she haunted by the very specific horrors she endured throughout the first book. Trust issues and extreme paranoia add yet more complexity to her situation, and I think Malerman wove in this look at PTSD and living with trauma well.
Malorie has fewer standout set pieces than Bird Box, and so never quite managed to get beneath my skin in the same way. But it does still use sensory deprivation and our fear of the unknown very well to create a feeling of vulnerability and threat. It’s utterly compelling, and I flew through it, but this paciness does mean there are several instances of conveniently dramatic timing. Essentially, if something can go wrong for the characters, it will, and it’s best to just submit yourself to the wild ride that is their story if you can. That said, I do think the climax could have been a lot stronger overall; one major thread in particular feeling disappointingly rushed at the end.
Considering how worried I was that this would feel more like a cash-grab-sequel to the (meh) movie adaptation of Bird Box than it would a genuine sequel to the book, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time with this. Gripping, creepy, fascinating conceptually, and with interesting things to say about family and hope, it really does have a lot going for it. I’m still not wholly convinced it’s a sequel we necessarily needed, but it’s one that in no way damages the impact of its predecessor either.