Thursday, September 3, 2009

Shriek: An Afterword

Just a fair warning, there are spoilers later in this review. Trust me, I hate spoilers for books. I'll never forget when my friend Bob ruined the ending of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince for my husband by describing a Saturday Night Live skit that did the same thing. I had kept it secret for so long, I think I took off Bob's own hat and smacked him with it...but I digress. The point is, I try not to put spoilers in most of my book or movie reviews, but since my one real complaint about this book is the ending, I feel I have to say something about it. Still, feel free to read up until I tell you to stop if you don't want the ending spoiled. (I'm not sure why I'm so worried about this. There isn't much of an ending to spoil, which is kind of the point of my complaint. Even if you read the "spoiler" more than likely there won't be much spoiled for you.)

Well, I just finished the novel Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer, and I must say I'm pleasantly impressed. When I first started the book it was a slow start. It's written from the perspective of a woman born into a family of historians (I knew what I was getting into), but, even knowing that, I thought it was too academic for my standards. Still, the pace really began to pick up after the first few chapters and by the time I reached the second half of the book I was totally hooked. I couldn't put it down for several days and reading it became the highlight of my week.

One of the best elements of this novel is the setting. I really should take lessons from this book on how to develop my own setting. The city of Ambergris is as much of a character as the people telling about it, dynamically changing throughout the book and going through stages as much as the characters themselves. The world was so well thought out that it felt like the journal was describing a real place, especially by the end of the book. And, I have to admit, the caverns underground with the "gray caps," a race of mushroom people, was incredibly well done.

I thought originally that the idea was kind of cliche (I know, I write vampire fiction, I have no room to talk), but it was downright impressive. The fungal weaponry and the vivid description of color as opposed to the drab real world actually painted an image with words. The gray caps became incredibly mysterious beings with a purpose and at the same time terrifying monsters as the book progressed.

Here's my one complaint (those who want to read the book without knowing the ending, turn back now.)

Sadly, the novel ends without telling us everything. The ending feels almost abrupt and forced. We never find out what the machine is that the gray caps are building beneath the city, or if they are ever going to conquer the city or simply leave to go back to their own world. We also don't know if there's going to be another "Silence" that will make the remaining inhabitants of the city disappear, or what "the Silence" actually was in the first place. There is mention of a "Shift," where the city is going to suffer much worse than it did during the "War of the Houses," something that was bad enough, but we never find out what "the Shift" is. You also don't find out what happens to the narrator of the novel at the end.

I'm one of those people who gets attached to the characters enough to want to know what happens to them. In the Dark Tower Series, I had to follow Roland into the Tower, not because I like seeing the destination rather than the journey, but because not reading any further felt like abandoning him. In this case, Janice Shriek abandoned me. You never find out if she put on the glasses to follow her brother Duncan underground. You don't know if she finds a way to cheat death once she gets there. You don't even know what was in Duncan's trunk that he left for her.

I like to think she did go, since she wanted to escape the world that she no longer belonged to, but there is also the possibility that she was simply pushed in front of a car at the end, which in my opinion is very anti-climactic. (After the story ends, one of her friends writes a short description of how he found the manuscript and why he decided to publish it. He also says that there was someone fitting Janice's description pushed in front of a car).

I enjoyed the book and I do recommend it. Still, hate the fact that it left me hanging and left so many unanswered questions. That was Duncan's style of writing in the novel, creating answers that only asked more questions, so maybe that was done purposefully as a commentary to that style. But, that doesn't mean I have to like it. Jeff VanderMeer might be working on a continuation, but I seriously doubt it, so sadly I'll never know the answers. Still, overall, a very good book.


  1. Hi! Thanks for the thoughtful review of Shriek. It's part of the Ambergris Cycle: City of Saints Madmen, Shriek: An Afterword, and the forthcoming Finch. Finch should answer all of your questions, although I should say all three books are meant as stand-alones. I thought the family/character dynamic was the important thing in Shriek, and that the other stuff the reader is free to piece together from the clues given. But Finch does answer any questions, and I hope you like it. It's a much more straightforward novel than Shriek, just by chance.

    Thanks again! I really appreciate the review.

  2. Wow...I'm honored you commented on my review. I really did enjoy your book and I'll look forward to reading Finch. I have to admit, the mysteries you left open intrigued me. I think I'll pick up City of Saints and Madmen too. Shriek: An Afterward was able to stand alone--it was due to an oversight that I didn't notice you had written another previously, and the family dynamic is the part I enjoyed the most only next to the terrific setting. You made the characters very interesting, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten so attached to them or cared what happened to them. Thanks for writing these books and for inspiring me to try to improve my work as well.