Melissa Marr’s The Arrivals (excerpt here) is set in a desolate, barren landscape simply known as the Wasteland that evokes the aura of the Wild West. While the US Frontier may have had its perils, Marr’s world has literal monsters including vampire analogues (bloedzuigers), dragon analogues (lindwurms), and magic wielding killer monks. Thrust into this world is a group of people who wake up after their death in our world—all of them killers in their former life here on Earth. If the set-up of being resurrected on a strange world is familiar, then you might be aware of Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld novels. However, the superficial set up is where the similarities (mostly) end; Marr’s novel is much more intimate and personal.
Marr focuses her narrative on a small group of Arrivals, the people who were reborn on this world. Katherine (Kit) and Jackson are brother and sister originally from the 1870s who’ve been in the Wasteland for over twenty years. For much of that time, they’ve been in conflict with the aforementioned monsters as well as the sorcerer, Ajani. An accord is struck that each new Arrival can choose which side of the divide they will place themselves. Over the years, Ajani has managed to gather people formerly on Kit and Jackson’s side.
Once people arrive in the Wasteland, they don’t die easily. That is, many people are resurrected after being killed in the Wasteland while some die a true death, with no rhyme or reason as to when a person is killed with finality. As the novel begins, a member of Kit and Jackson’s group dies the final death and is replaced by Chloe, a girl from 2010. Jackson was very close to the deceased woman, Mary, which complicates his feelings both about her death and how he deals with Chloe.
Marr’s tale is a slim volume (under 300 pages), which doesn’t leave too much room for exploration of this fascinating Weird Western world she’s created. Rather, the novel is a character-focused snapshot concerned with the culmination of the conflict between Ajani and Kit’s people. As a newcomer to the land, Chloe works in part as a window into the strange world of monsters and resurrected killers, though her focal sections were a bit limited. She’s also the lynchpin that sets the plot of the novel in motion, as Ajani grows weary of the accord and moves to bring Chloe to his side in a more proactive fashion than ever before.
I enjoyed The Arrivals very much; Marr managed to evoke powerful emotions and kept the narrative moving at a gunshot pace. The brother-sister relationship between Jackson and Kit was perhaps the most powerful relationship she depicted. After all, much of the story is told from their perspective and they’ve been living in the Wasteland longer than any of the human characters Marr introduces. Despite both characters being adults, Jackson still sees Kit as his little sister. Kit, meanwhile, wishes to be treated with the trust and maturity she’s gained as an adult. Sorrow over the lost relationships they once had with the other inhabitants of the Wasteland, as well as hope blossoming in the face of oncoming chaos intertwine throughout the novel. They are humans dealing with less than natural circumstances.
But…but…I can’t help but feel that there’s more to the story of Jackson and Kit and their allies. The Wasteland, despite its name, seems fertile ground for more stories to be told and the events depicted in The Arrivals felt (to me) only an excerpt of a larger tale waiting to be told. I suppose that’s a good thing because my appetite is whet and hungers to read more of what Melissa Marr’s storytelling may yet reveal. The only true negative was a jarring scene early in the novel (and I wouldn’t consider this spoilerish): when Chloe first arrives in the Wasteland, Kit knows her name without Chloe having given it. My mind kept returning to that scene thinking Marr was going to offer some kind of explanation, but it was a hole left unfilled.
The Arrivals is a tight, emotional story about relationships, trust and confrontations in a strange world where people know even less about themselves and the world in which they live than the world from whence they came.
I hope Marr returns to this milieu and these characters. Wanting more of what a storyteller has revealed can only be considered a recommendation.
The Arrivals is available July 2nd from William Morrow.