It’s fair to suggest dystopian novels, especially those involving teenage protagonists, are such a mainstay now that any novel hoping to stand out from the crowd needs to offer something unique. Helen Marshall delivers on that challenge with her debut The Migration. A novel that cuts through the plethora of cookie cutter books in the same sub-genre to give the reader a refreshing take on what can still be achieved. The story begins with portentous flooding and storms that reveal a new pandemic. This plague takes the form of an immune disorder that only affects young people and results in deaths around the world.
The focus of this catastrophe hones in on the Perella family from Toronto, told from the point of view of the eldest daughter Sophie. When Kira, the youngest child, is infected, their mother decides to move to Oxford where there is more advanced treatment. It’s here that the story really takes hold. Staying with their aunt Irene, a historical epidemiologist delving into the Black Death, Sophie learns more about mortality than she thought she could ever dare imagine.
The Migration is steeped in cultural links between death and new beginnings. The breakup of a family to living with new family. The leaving of Toronto to live in Oxford. The loss of her best friend to meet new friends. The end of the world as she knew it and the new world about to happen. And, the actual deaths of course. Because the lines drawn between loss and discovery are never left in metaphorical ambiguity. Helen Marshall is never afraid to draw a knife across the page and shock her readers.
The uniqueness of The Migration happens around the halfway point of the novel and flies from behind a cloud of brilliant yet so far familiar dystopian tropes. From this point on, the first half of the novel reveals itself in the mind as a shrewd puzzle building to a fantastic reveal that never stops twisting until the final page. It’s only here that the novel reveals itself to be much more than a dystopian coming of age story. It’s almost a new genre in its own right. Fans of Marshall’s short story collections will appreciate this blending of genres.
The subtexts and cultural richness of The Migration are aided by the rich knowledge of the subject by Marshall who is in an expert on the Black Death. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford investigating literature written during this period. At times, the depth of this interchange between fiction and studied material is reminiscent of Thomas Harris. Beautiful writing infused with exceptional detail that is never jarring or interfering with the pace of the story. This, along with the fresh take on an often-tired subgenre, makes The Migration a must read for any horror and fantasy fans and everything inbetween.
THE MIGRATION / AUTHOR: HELEN MARSHALL / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 5TH MARCH