I was in high school when I found author Max Brooks. By that time, I was already a massive fan of the zombie genre in all forms of media and I ingested books like they were oxygen. Knowing that Max was the son of one of my favorite directors of all time, Mel Brooks, it made me want to read his first book, The Zombie Survival Guide, all the more. When his second book, World War Z, was released a few years later, I was immediately a fan. While the film adaptation didn’t do the book any justice, it remains one of my favorite books/audiobooks that I have ever experienced. When I saw that Max Brooks was set to release another book this year, I was elated and immediately pre-ordered. I had no idea what to expect but DEVOLUTION was about to take me on a wild and bloody ride.
I was simultaneously excited and hesitant about the subject of the novel: Bigfoot. How could an author that makes such intelligent novels with such intricate details make a story about Bigfoot that didn’t sound hokey? DEVOLUTION follows the journals of Kate Holland, a woman struggling with severe anxiety that moves with her husband, Dan, to an experimental and almost completely self-sufficient community in the deep Northwestern woods. Greenloop is a community of six families who want to reconnect with nature while living in tech-filled homes. It offers the best of both worlds: all the technology of the 21st century and a way to get away from it all. She hopes this temporary move into her brother’s home while he’s away will help her to work through her fears and anxieties. What she doesn’t count on is a volcanic eruption.
The eruption of Mt. Rainier puts a wrench in all of her plans when the road to civilization is cut off by mudslides that dry like concrete. The drone deliveries to Greenloop have stopped due to resources going to emergencies and no one really knows that the village is in any trouble. As Kate, Dan and their strange neighbor, Mostar, plan on how to make it through the winter, it would seem that the volcano and oncoming winter is the least of their problems. At first, animals begin to flood their grounds as Mt. Rainier destroyed their land but then those animals disappear or are found horribly killed and mutilated. A terrible smell is wafting through Greenloop and Kate always feels as if she’s being watched. Something is stalking the village and it looks like their four-legged food source has run out, but there’s still plenty left to eat in the forest.
All of this is seen through the lens of a reporter investigating the story of what is known as the “Greenloop Massacre.” Nothing but Kate’s journal is found and it is up to the reporter, Kate’s brother and a suspicious official on a rescue team to try and sort out what occurred after Mt. Rainier blew. In true Max Brooks fashion, the story bounces from voice to voice, albeit easier to follow than it was with World War Z. While it starts off slow and relaxing, it doesn’t take long for Mt. Rainier to blow its top and for Kate’s idyllic move to the wilderness to turn from bad to worse.
The intensity of DEVOLUTION REALLY snuck up on me. While I eat up cryptic stories, most of them tend to be a little silly or hard to believe. Even though I know this is fiction, this is so damn believable. The action and horror aren’t so over the top that you could replace Bigfoot with a pack of predatory animals or humans and it could make just as much sense. As someone who suffers from anxiety not so different than Kate’s, there were moments where I got so anxious by what was happening that I had to set the book down and take a breath. Not only that, but there are moments that will have you holding your breath and more that will tug on your heart. Horror doesn’t have to be blood and guts (although DEVOLUTION isn’t spared of viscera) and this horror is definitely psychological and focuses on what happens to us as a species when we are pushed against the wall. A cornered animal will bite and we get to watch Kate’s own evolution as she is put in a pressure cooker of survival.
The writing style of DEVOLUTION is similar to the books of Max Brooks’ past but the subject matter is a breath of fresh air that will appease the appetites of horror and mystery fans alike. I HIGHLY recommend DEVOLUTION. Kate’s voice is so strong that it was incredible to see how that voice progressed through her experiences. I can only hope that since Brooks dipped his toe in the world of the cryptic, he will cannonball in and we will get more stories of mysterious creatures from around the world. You can get DEVOLUTION now and I recommend you do and be prepared to never want to step foot into the woods again.