Book Review: Malorie by Josh Malerman
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Del Rey (July 21, 2020)
Length: 240 pages
I’ve read several of Josh Malerman’s books before (with mixed results), but never Bird Box, the predecessor to Malorie. However, following the recommendation of several bloggers who assured me I should be fine jumping into this sequel without having the first book under my belt, I decided to go for it (though I did watch the Netflix movie).
And yes, for all intents and purposes, Malorie can be read as a standalone. That said, there are some key points about the setting readers need to know first, but the book catches you up with all that rather quickly. Around seventeen years ago, the world was invaded by creatures that suddenly appeared, and the mere sight of one is enough to drive a person to suicidal and/or homicidal madness. Cue death, the apocalypse and all that jazz. The use of blindfolds was swiftly adopted in order to prevent a person from losing their mind, and although it was a strategy that worked, it meant having to bring the whole world to a standstill and plunging people’s lives into darkness.
In the first book, our titular character Malorie spent the early years of this chaos trying to find a safe haven for herself and her two children, before winding up at a place she thought they could finally call home. Obviously, that didn’t last. When this book opens, our protagonist and her now teenage children Tom and Olympia are on their own again. A terrible incident at their last place of refuge has broken all the trust she has in the human race. The only person she can rely on is herself, and to that end, she has forbidden Tom and Olympia to ever have contact with outsiders and has instructed them to never ever take their blindfolds off.
But teens will be teens, especially Tom, who has a rebellious streak. He has never known a world without creatures, doesn’t really understand Malorie’s fear, and resents the isolation and strict rules she has imposed. Then one day, a man claiming to be a census taker visits them at their lonely abode, leaving behind a report which turns Malorie’s world upside down. Weighing the significance of the news she has just received, she decides it is worth the risk to venture out once more with the children, blindfolded, and make the journey to discover if the information is true. And for Tom, their new mission is also a secret hope at an opportunity—a chance to break free of Malorie’s hold and see the world for himself.
By far, Malorie is the best book I’ve read by Malerman, probably because it is so straightforward. He has an incredible imagination and seems to like experimenting with different styles, so admittedly, a couple of his books have been too strange for my tastes. Yet this one I enjoyed it a lot because the story was quick and entertaining, plain and simple. Malorie, Tom, and Olympia go on a quest, and we find out in the end whether they get to fulfill what they’d hoped to achieve, and while following them, we get to see them learn a few lessons about themselves and each other.
One thing that struck me though, was the prescient nature of this book. Reading Malorie in the midst of this pandemic has made me see some of its themes in a whole different light. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the unfathomable creatures and an invisible, little-understood virus. Blindfolds can easily be seen as an analogy to masks. And like all polarizing issues, there are extreme views on each side. “Live by the fold” Malorie represents irrational fear, paranoia, and over-protectiveness, even if they do come from a place of good intentions. Tom has a more positive, realistic, and proactive outlook on the situation, but he is also reckless, inexperienced, and lacking knowledge in his youth. That said, I don’t think there’s intent of any strong message here, other than the fact the right way forward in dealing with a world full of creatures probably lies somewhere between the two characters’ views (and, of course, the inescapable truth that the parent-child bond is forever and always going to be frustrating and complicated).
Probably my one complaint would be the pacing. I loved how quickly the plot moved, but I wish more time had been spent on the ending. When the climax hit, I looked skeptically at how close I was to the end and thought to myself, “No way this is going to wrap up satisfactorily with so few pages left in the book.” And I was right. Don’t get me wrong, I thought what actually happened did a good job providing closure, but there’s no doubt those events could have been a lot more emotional, rewarding and meaningful had the ending not felt like it was tied up with a perfunctory bow, and then let’s kick it out the door and be done with it.
But overall, while Josh Malerman’s books have been mixed bag for me in the past, I enjoyed Malorie unequivocally. He’s definitely an author I will continue to read no matter what, because you just never know what unique and imaginative stories he will have to tell.