They’re here … The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many … They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to??–
The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 – 2012)
Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.
There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged. And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone. A message that will change the world.
The message is a warning.
Sarah Lotz is one half of the writing duo S.L. Grey, whose short fiction I love, and one half of Lily Herne, whose YA fiction I still need to read. But based on her writing as part of S.L. Grey, when I saw the announcement for The Three, her first solo novel, I knew I had to read it. It sounded deliciously creepy and when the book trailer was launched, I was only more excited for the book, something that doesn’t happen very often, as book trailers usually aren’t my thing. But even with those high expectations Lotz managed to surprise and amaze me, not just with the narrative The Three tells, but also with the form she’s chosen and how well everything fits together.
Before getting to substance, let’s have a look at the form. The main narrative of The Three is presented in the form of a non-fiction work by Elspeth Martins, which looks at how the events of Black Thursday and the three survivors have moved from a tragedy to a grand conspiracy. This lends the book a somewhat meta-feel and also makes the narrative unreliable, as we’re getting the narrative filtered through Martins’ editing, her beliefs and biases are bound to influence the narrative she weaves. Something that is enforced by the “Afterword to the special anniversary edition” that’s at the end of Martins’ book. Martins constructs her book through interviews with witnesses and experts, extracts, and transcriptions of chats and recordings. She alternates between material concerning the survivors and material illustrating how the events are interpreted by the rest of the world, weaving a story of a world descending into panic and chaos.
The above describes how the story is delivered, not the story itself. The Three is a blend of horror and apocalyptic fiction, in which we witness the world flailing for an explanation for the events of Black Thursday. They want answers to the questions of how four planes can inexplicably crash in less than a day, how out of all of those crashes three children can survive relatively unscathed, and what is the meaning of the message left by Pamela May Donald? Lotz shows us how humanity struggles to give meaning to the inexplicable and how they turn to the time-old, worn-out answers we’ve always turned to: religion, the supernatural, and aliens. Most of the explanations in The Three are found in religion, but that is an interesting choice, because it could be interpreted as displaying the filter of Elspeth Martins, who is American, and the reaction with the biggest fallout in the US is religious, which would likely influence her perspective.
Given how fragmented the narration is, it is amazing how Lotz not only manages to tell a coherent story, she also manages to create characters the reader can truly care about. I came to care about what happened to several of them and while the children themselves remain cyphers, characters such as Paul Craddock, Chiyoko, Ryu, and Lillian Small are clear and well-formed. I especially felt for Paul, whose first person narrative through excerpts from his autobiography and transcriptions from recordings he made, makes it really easy to connect with him and we get to witness his spiralling out of control up close and personal. I found the apocalyptic storyline, set in Pamela Donald’s home town and run by her Pastor Len Vorhees, disturbing. The way the cult of the Pamelists is set up and its belief in the Four Horsemen was chilling in how simply it was done and how many people fell in line with that narrative without doubt. It made me wonder whether Western – or at least US – society could so easily become that conservative and fundamentalist in such a short span of time. But Vorhees’ story is just as much about loss of control and personal disintegration as Paul’s is. But where Paul loses himself, Vorhees loses his reputation.
What made my experience reading The Three extra creepy was that at the time of reading the news was filled with coverage of the search for Flight MH370; the plane has yet to be found and its unexplained disappearance has given rise to numerous theories, reaching from weather trouble, to terrorism, to conspiracy. I adored The Three as I found it clever, compelling, and extremely readable. It has cemented Sarah Lotz as a must-read author and it means I’ll have to put the S.L. Grey and Lily Herne novels on my to-buy lists. The Three is a fascinating thriller that will haunt you with its questions and social commentary as much as with the creepiness of its events. It ends on a perfect note, one that is seeded throughout the book, but surprised me nonetheless. The Three is one of my favourite books so far this year, meeting all my high expectations and blowing them right out of the water. It’ll be published on May 8th and I recommend you run, not walk, to the bookshop to buy it, because it’s just that good.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.