BACKLIST BUMP: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Narrators: Emily Woo ZellerJames Fouhey

Every year, twice a year, everyone and everything between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn loses their shadows. For a few brief moments, the sun shines directly overhead in that area, and everyone’s shadows shrink ever and ever smaller until they magically disappear. The shadows always return, of course, after which everyone goes about their lives. Until, one day, in a marketplace in India, a man named Hemu Joshi inexplicably loses his shadow forever.

He becomes a global sensation, strutting about without his dark companion. Doctors and scientists are baffled; news outlets are enraptured. It seems like a miracle until Hemu begins to lose his memories—and then, as the consequences of his memory loss become apparent, horror ensues. Before long, others begin to lose their shadows, forgetting themselves and their realities, collapsing the world as we know it. And so, the story begins.

In the aftermath of the Forgetting, Orlando “Ory” Zhang and his wife Max have taken refuge in the hotel they had been staying in for a wedding when the Forgetting reached the United States. When Max loses her shadow, she quietly slips away while Ory is out scavenging to spare him the pain and anguish that will inevitably follow.

The story unfolds as Ory embarks on a desperate journey across an unrecognizable United States to find Max before she forgets completely. The opening chapter is a powerful emotional hook, compelling and tender with just the right amount of exposition—by far one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

The Book of M straddles the line between science fiction and romance, and Peng Shepherd is an expert at threading tender, human connections through a world that is wholly new, disturbing, and at times nonsensical. As the inescapable shadowless disease spreads and reality becomes unhinged, listeners are anchored by Ory and Max’s bond, which is a steadfast, comforting force that propels the story through strange and frightening terrain.

James Fouhey is a transformative narrator, bringing to life three out of four characters through whom the story is told: Ory Zhang; Mahnaz Ahmadi, an Iranian athlete training in the USA; and The One Who Gathers, a mysterious individual with a unique understanding of memory. Rounding out the cast is Emily Woo Zeller as Max, whose poignant, heartbreaking performance is an absolute standout.

Clocking in at just over 17 hours, The Book of M isn’t exactly a short listen, but Shepherd makes every second of it necessary and meaningful. With plenty of post-apocalyptic intrigue and lyrical prose, Shepherd’s stunning dystopian debut manages to be innovative and extraordinary in a genre that is inundated with repetitive stories. Capped off with an ending that will pull the rug out from under your feet, The Book of M is a novel that you’ll want to treasure in your memory for a very long time.

Publisher’s Summary:

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.

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