A Beautiful Prison: A Review of Wayward, by Blake Crouch

The second part of a trilogy has a few very specific jobs to accomplish.  After the first part sets the stakes and shows the main characters achieving some measure of victory, the second part slows things down a little.  It shows us the new normal after the first part and, over it’s course, ramps up the tension and stakes until ending on a cliffhanger to set up the third and final part.  A good second part will answer questions you had leftover from the first part, while raising a few more, and leaving some you may have asked since the beginning unanswered until the very end of the trilogy.  If the second part has done its job, the eventual cliffhanger will be something you did not expect, something which makes you excited, eagerly awaiting the finale to the story.

Wayward is the second novel in the Wayward Pines trilogy, following Blake Crouch’s excellent opening novel, Pines.  In Pines, Secret Service Special Agent Ethan Burke awakens in the sleepy town of Wayward Pines with no recollection of how he arrived there or why.  Quickly, he remembers he is investigating the disappearance of two other Secret Service agents who traveled to the town investigating the financial dealings of David Pilcher.  Through the pages of the first novel, Ethan runs for his life from the residents of Wayward Pines, fights against the shadowy rulers who force the townsfolk to live vacant lives, travels beyond the electric fence which keeps the townspeople trapped, and learns the truth about the state of the world.  It is unrelenting, violent, and tense.  Wayward, picking up very soon after, changes the pace, but never the tone of the series.

Crouch’s second novel offers a new normal for Ethan Burke.  No longer on the run from his new-found neighbors, he is the sheriff of Wayward Pines.  He knows the hidden truth of the world.  It is nearly two thousand years in the future.  The entirety of humanity lives in this false town, kidnapped and cryogenically frozen over the course of thirty-years, ending in 2013.  David Pilcher, the scientist who organized the entire venture, lives in an internal mountain superstructure, overseeing his grand experiment.  Ethan lives with his wife and twelve-year-old son, both taken to the town and awakened five years before his own thawing.  In Wayward, Crouch slows the pace compared to the first novel.  He explains a bit more about the world, without ever showing too much.  Our experience is through the eyes of the townspeople, and they only know as much as they were told.

Where Pines found its tension through unrelenting chases and violence, Wayward finds tension in the smaller, more mundane interactions.  The residents of Wayward Pines are not living happy lives.  They are forced to act out some semblance of small town Americana, hiding their true feelings and personalities all the while.  Marriages are arranged, friendships are manufactured, and children are taught a mysterious curriculum by Pilcher’s true believers, forbidden from ever discussing their education with their parents.  There are multiple scenes in which Ethan spends time with his wife, wishing he could just talk to her.  Crouch narrates micro-expressions and extrapolates the hidden meanings.  Was that facial-tic a sign of annoyance, or an acknowledgement of a joke?  Ethan struggles with repressing his emotions but forces himself to maintain the lie to keep the town safe from the monsters outside.

The main plot of Wayward involves a murder investigation.  Not that unusual for a normal thriller or detective story, but with a town this tightly controlled, the murder comes as a shock.  A woman has been stabbed repeatedly, tortured, bled out, and finally dumped on the road.  Alyssa Pilcher, god’s own daughter.  At first, the fear is that aberrations, the mutated monsters who occupy the world, have infiltrated the town.  But the investigation tasks Ethan with finding a possible rebellion in the town.  Townsfolk who have somehow found a way to escape the ever-watching eyes of Pilcher and his organization.  This is not an investigation where evidence gathering is key.  The people of Wayward Pines are too good at covering their tracks.  Instead, it offers a glimpse into the private, real feelings of the residents and how they see their world.  At the same time, the murder acts as a window into the soul of Pilcher and his god complex.  This is a man who would sacrifice anything and everything to ensure he is the one shaping the future of humanity.

Just like Pines offered readers a moment of rest when Ethan escapes over the electric fence and sees the beautiful wilderness beyond, Wayward offers a similar break in the rough middle.  After spending so much time around controlling Pilcher and the false emotions of the town, Ethan find his way to the Wanderers.  The supposed rebels, thought to be plotting revolution, are the few in Wayward Pines who have found a refuge and a place to truly be themselves.  Just like the American people during Prohibition, the Wanderers have founded a speakeasy in a hard to reach cave on a hill.  Here, the people of Wayward Pines have a safe place to express themselves and allow all their repressed emotions an outlet.  These are not murderers or rebels, but the fact remains, someone murdered Alyssa Pilcher.  After this brief moment of respite, the book begins moving and does not stop until that cliffhanger on the last page.

Wayward is an excellent example of a trilogy’s second part.  It begins slow, shows us the main character’s new normal, and still finds ways to increase the tension.  There are larger stakes at hand than the first novel, though it does not seem obvious at first.  The tension builds slowly but keeps building until it is Ethan’s turn to lead a fête of his own, a cruel reminder of what he went through himself upon waking up in Wayward Pines.  Once Crouch starts moving, he does not stop, until the finale.  Just when things look hopeful, and it seems we know what the next chapter may hold, Crouch ends on a cliffhanger.  The existence of a cliffhanger is expected.  After all, this is book two of three.  But this is Wayward Pines, where nothing is as it seems on the surface.  The final confrontation is coming, and it will be bloody.

Wayward may be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 4 days

Next on the List: The Last Town, by Blake Crouch

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