cover image The Book of M

The Book of M

Peng Shepherd. Morrow, $26.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-06-2669605

An apocalyptic future in which an epidemic dubbed the Forgetting robs large swaths of the world’s population of their shadows and memories—causing them to work dangerous magic—sets the scene for Shepherd’s exciting debut. Husband and wife Ory and Max have been holed up in an abandoned hotel outside Arlington, Va., for two years, living hand-to-mouth off beef jerky and scavenged goods, and hiding from the predatory world outside, where the shadowless wreak havoc and misremember the old world into a new one (in one instance, a shadowless forgets what a house looks like; it is rebuilt with its roof on the floor). Then Max’s shadow disappears. The couple devises protective rules, and Ory gives Max a tape recorder to document her memories. But when Max escapes, Ory sets out on a terrifying journey to find her. He is beset by enraged shadowless with electric guts; joins a book-collecting, shadowed army; and meets archer Mahnaz, who has a fascinating backstory of her own. Ory and Max separately gather stray rumors of a mythologized figure chasing a cure for shadowlessness in New Orleans, though it’s uncertain whether they’ll reach the city without dying. Though its characters sometimes slide into tropes, Shepherd’s debut is graceful and riveting, slowly peeling back layers of an intricately constructed and unsettling alternate future. (June) Correction: an earlier version of this review misspelled the author's last name.