A Book Review by Author & Podcaster Hazel Dains
Post-Apocalyptic literature is on a proven rise and has been ever since the world was thrust into a global pandemic two years ago [has it really only been that long ago?].
For those of you who have jumped on this bandwagon [I know I have], you won't be disappointed by this beautifully crafted novel, and book one of the series "Wake Me Up After the Apocalypse" by American novelist Jordan Rivet.
Our Review Process
During this post, we are going to be discussing the quality of the book's writing style, character development, worldbuilding and overall readability and end with giving it an official A Thousand Lives Lived Review Rating.
To look over how we evaluate books that we are reviewing please take a look at this document:
The content below will contain some spoilers. Do not read below if you do not want to be surprised by some of the events portrayed in the novel.
What's the Premise of the Novel?
The book has two timelines that form the setting:
1) Present time wherein the main character Joanna Murphy is chosen as one of a small group of young people to go into cryo-sleep for two hundred years, to wait out the collision of a deathly comet. In the months leading up to the impending apocalypse, Joanna and her close-knit team learn what they need to know to survive after they wake from their 200-year slumber. During this phase of the story, Joanna meets fellow survivor, Garret and forms an attachment that they both expect will stretch far into the future.
2) Two hundred years into the future when Joanna wakes up from her cryo-sleep and finds that she is all alone. Her determination to survive is all that keeps her going as she must fend for herself in a hostile and lonely world where she expected to have the help of her friends.
The novel is told in the first-person point of view of Joanna Murphy, the main character. The writer does a great job of staying in the head of Joanna and realistically portrays the events through her teenage perspective.
The writer does an excellent job of pacing the novel in a way that is enjoyable for the reader. She does not shy away from portraying raw emotions when necessary, spending the right amount of time and space on those scenes. For example, as mentioned in the podcast interview with Jordan Rivet, I noticed that Rivet took extra time on her scene where Joanna is climbing up the mineshaft of the bunker. She takes the time to explain how this would have felt both physically and emotionally for Joanna, and such attention to detail thrusts the reader into that world vividly.
The writing itself is well done, with unique descriptions of thoughts, feelings, and the world around the point of view character. It is easy for me as the reader to imagine places like the bunker, the room just off the cave with the couch, showers and lockers, the vast sterile courtyard that Joanna sees when she climbs out from the bunker and of course, the quaint but in a way rough, village that the survivors had started to build for themselves.
Overall the author did an amazing job of communicating the story effectively and interestingly.
I thought that the characters were developed quite well. Each member of the team was described with their unique attributes, mindsets, personalities and skillsets [no small feat for any writer]. There is a sense of diversity amongst the original team as described in the present timeline.
And the writer also did an excellent job of describing how the characters changed from the moment that they woke from cryosleep. For example, Garret changed in a drastic way. He starts out as a nice teenage boy who is optimistic and easy to get along with. As the reader, I thought 'what a great guy!" When I read of him again and how he'd changed after so many challenges, I still thought he was a great guy, but he had noticeably changed from being overtly optimistic to being a realist. And in some ways a desperate one.
I thought that Joanna's emotions and thought processing shown were realistic and understandable. I could easily understand her motives for what she was doing and I wanted her to succeed. This ultimately means I am taking in the story and gripped by the events: rooting for the character.
Even the characters who were portrayed as 'bad guys,' I could understand their motivations and how their experiences had shaped them. This is particularly true of Levi and Blake, the latter making more of an impression on me.
Overall, the character development done in the novel was excellent and we can only hope to learn more about the characters in the next novels in the series.
When we are talking about worldbuilding in a science fiction novel we are usually asking the question: was the science portrayed in a realistic way?
Now, I am not fully qualified to answer that question, having no background in science. My colleague, Tamara Linse, has more experience in this field did have a few questions that she was hoping would be explained in more detail by the author, so we've included those questions and answers here:
1. How did the food in the bunker stay fresh or edible for 200 years?
The premise of this novel is that a technology has been developed that allows humans to survive in cryosleep stasis for 200 years. This is not possible, though you’ll find similar tech in many sci-fi stories. My assumption is that a version of the world that has successfully invented cryosleep tanks could also have found ways to preserve food (it’s not fresh, of course) and invent new types of batteries.
The pace of scientific advances can vary widely depending on how resources are allocated. Space travel, for example, had far less money and dedication poured into it in the Bunker series world than it has in our own reality. Part of the fun of writing science fiction is imagining how variations in our world might play out.
2. After sustaining such terrible burns, wouldn't Joanna have died in an era where there were no hospitals etc?
Joanna sustains second-degree burns to her legs. This injury is incredibly painful but survivable, especially because the person caring for her trained as a nurse before the apocalypse and has many years of experience treating injuries in primitive conditions. Third-degree burns would have been a different story. They hurt less because the nerve endings are destroyed, but they’re far more likely to kill the victim without serious medical intervention, including skin grafts.
It’s worth noting that the people who pulled Joanna out of the fire were nearby and already rushing into her camp when the roof collapsed. She didn’t stay under that beam for long.
3. Did the animals survive the apocalypse?
Yes, some animals were preserved in other bunkers! Only insects survived on the surface, but a select group of bunker cohorts made a point of saving other creatures (many as frozen embryos). Each bunker in the program is a little different, with varying resources and technical capabilities. As the end of the world approached, the cohorts developed their own subcultures and priorities. For some, that included preserving non-human life. We explore the different bunkers a lot more in the second and third books of the series
4. Why were they not placed in the same place in the bunker- as they were part of such a close-knit team?
The teams were divided into pairs to be spread throughout the bunker. As each pair emerged from cryosleep, they could begin recovering their strength, putting them in a better position to help the rest of their team. Each team of eight was supposed to have some members who'd been awake long enough to get their bearings. This would make each team a stronger unit than if they all woke up at once and were all equally weak.
Relationships Over Science
With all of that said we know that Wake Me Up After the Apocalypse is primarily a story about the relationships and experiences of the characters as opposed to strictly science-related. That means, while in my opinion, the depiction of science works for the novel, it does not have to be perfect in order for the worldbuilding to work.
The world that Rivet created in her novel is one that we are familiar with because of the consistent arrangement of apocalyptic films that have been produced in the past decade or two. We know what a world on the brink of collapse should feel like, and I think that that is what we see in this novel.
Another thing to consider is that while the book was still in the present [before the comet hit the earth] the author does an excellent job of keeping the chosen teenagers in a protective isolated state so that the reader almost cannot feel the sense of panic and desperation that has taken over the outside world. But the moment that the string of vans leaves the training complex, the reader can feel it. And so can teenagers. People have been waiting outside the fence to jump on the side of the vans to safety for weeks, and have been gunned down in the process. This type of scene brings it home for the reader and makes it real.
Fast forward 200 hundred years after the comet has destroyed all life [or most of it], I absolutely loved the worldbuilding work that was done for the survivor's village. There is a warm, resilient air about the make-believe village that makes you want to be a part of that committed group of people. When I was reading, I could smell the comforting wood fire roaring, and hear the women chatting together as they sat outside in the open circle of the village. I could see the children chasing each other, happy with dirt-encrusted faces.
I think it is fairly obvious by now that I enjoyed reading this novel and look forward to reading the next two books in the series.
Our Official A Thousand Lives Lived Rating:
4.5 Starred Review
And Read the other books in the series:
About the Author
Jordan Rivet is an American author of swashbuckling fantasy and post-apocalyptic science fiction. She has written twenty books across six series and doesn't plan to stop anytime soon.
Jordan's books include YA fantasy adventures Steel and Fire, Empire of Talents, The Fire Queen's Apprentice, and Art Mages of Lure. Her science fiction includes Wake Me After the Apocalypse and The Seabound Chronicles.
Originally from Arizona, Jordan lives in Hong Kong with her husband.