Wayward by Chuck Wendig


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Let’s Talk About It:

Like with its predecessor, I trudged through the pages of Wayward. It’s not that the book is unenjoyable, but I’m older now and these books are heavy! Also, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be (thanks COVID (and, I guess, old age)). I did “hack” my way through the pages, though, by also listening to the audiobook – something I highly recommend as the narrators are AMAZING!

I re-read Wanderers before jumping into this book to refresh my memory of the world Wendig constructed, and I began to wonder if Wayward was even necessary. The first book’s open-ending does give wiggle room for the sequel, but I like the aspect of letting the audience make their own conclusion. However, I did like the idea of that motherfucking rockgod extraordinaire, Pete Corley. 

Wayward does answer some questions left open at the end of Wanderers

  • What happens after an AI goes rogue, causes an apocalyptic pandemic, and grooms its handpicked survivors into worshiping it?
  • Where’s Ed Creel? Is ARM/Creel Coalition still a threat to Ouray?
  • What will happen to Shana’s baby? 
  • Is Matthew Bird’s wife still out there? 
  • But more importantly – where the fuck is Pete Corley?!

Goddamnit, Chuck, tell me! Just don’t make me cry!*

The book picks up where the last left off – five years after the major events (the Flock, White Mask, and Ozark Stover’s ARM). We learn that the events of the first book take place in an alternate 2020. I’m sure this was something Wendig chose after the very real pandemic (rumored to have been caused by bats, predicted by AI, and flooded the world with science-denying, antivaxxers – some of which stormed the U.S. Capitol in hopes to kill those who stood against their leader) that happened in 2020.

We also learn through Benji and Marcy that pockets of people – good people – have survived. That civilization has managed to outlive White Mask and seemingly thrive. Wouldn’t Ian Malcolm be happy to learn that life found a way. 

Things go south in Ouray when Black Swan makes a reappearance, letting Benji and Shana know its intentions and the range of its new abilities. This sends Benji and Shana on a cross country, post-apocalyptic road trip to find a way to stop the once-logical-now-diabolical AI.

Putting Benji and Shana on the road is a nice touch in Wayward. In Wanderers, we saw the country through the eyes of the Shepherds as they traveled with the Flock. That was before the world fell to White Mask. Now we get to see what a post-apocalyptic country the U.S. can become after its population is whittled down. 

However, we get two visions of the country, through three-and-a-half sets of eyes. Because as Benji and Shana are traveling in one direction, Ed Creel and company are traveling in the opposite direction. Benji and Shana encounter trouble, of course, but that takes the passenger seat to the people who they meet on the way. How communities pop up and people come together in order to survive.

We don’t get many new “good guy” characters in Wayward, but Wendig does utilize characters that fell beneath the cracks in the first book. We meet Dot, who becomes a potential love interest of Benji, something neither reader nor character expected. The breakout character of the sequel is, of course, Gumball, a golden retriever who survived most of his masters in the wake of and post White Mask. He is, after all, a good boy. The greatest of good boys.

What Wendig does provide us with is a rogue’s gallery of antagonists, though they lack the flair and threat of those in the previous book. 

Unlike Ozark Stover, Ed Creel isn’t menacing no matter how many doodads he is gifted. There were moments in Wanderers where I believe Ozark may win; I cannot say the same for Creel, someone I knew was destined to fail. He is seemingly an amalgamation of Donald Trump and Dan Crenshaw. Sure, they’re politics are a threat to our country, but essentially they’re just fragile white men who suffer from an inferiority complex. 

In Ouray, there’s Xander and Claudia, but each are just two-dimensional characters thrown into the plot and dealt with pretty quickly, leaving some damage in their wake, but not enough to remember by the end of the book. 

The big bad, of course, is none other than Black Swan, who has changed since we last encountered it. In Wanderers, we met a logical, emotionless AI that did bad in order to save the planet. However, as we dive into the pages of Wayward, we learn that it had some motives into why it selected the people who first made up the Flock. It’s also chilling learning its plan and how it is willing to stop at nothing to implement them.

Wendig knocked this one out of the park, though sometimes it felt like it suffered from the sophomore slump. Most characters that weren’t introduced in the first book, don’t grow with the story – mostly, because they’re not allowed to due to circumstances – and several suffer from two-dimensionality due to not having a meaningful part in the overall story. 

However, I do love it and highly recommend it just for the journey. Until next time, keep on huntin’.

*Spoiler alert – he made me cry. He made me cry a lot. I don’t think I can forgive him for this trespass against me.

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