The Drift

by C.J. Tudor

pub date: 31-January-2023 Random House/Ballantine

The Drift book cover by C.J. Tudor

Publisher’s Summary:

Hannah awakens to carnage, all mangled metal and shattered glass. Evacuated from a secluded boarding school during a snowstorm, her coach careered off the road, trapping her with a handful of survivors. They’ll need to work together to escape—with their sanity and secrets intact.

Meg awakens to a gentle rocking. She’s in a cable car stranded high above snowy mountains, with five strangers and no memory of how they got on board. They are heading to a place known only as “The Retreat,” but as the temperature drops and tensions mount, Meg realizes they may not all make it there alive.

Carter is gazing out the window of an isolated ski chalet that he and his companions call home. As their generator begins to waver in the storm, something hiding in the chalet’s depths threatens to escape, and their fragile bonds will be tested when the power finally fails—for good.

The imminent dangers faced by Hannah, Meg, and Carter are each one part of the puzzle. Lurking in their shadows is an even greater danger—one with the power to consume all of humanity.


Review:

This review is courtesy of NetGalley’s advanced copy. THE DRIFT was my first foray into the writing of British author, C.J. Tudor. Based on the cover art of blinding white snow falling and covering evergreens as scavenging crows circle above, I had a feeling I was in for a suspenseful tale of isolation. I was not wrong.

THE DRIFT surprised me in multiple ways. Readers are presented with chapters alternating through three different people trying to survive after ten years of a viral apocalypse which has destroyed the normalcy and comforts of 21st century life. It didn’t take COVID-19 for creators of any kind to come up with this scenario. It has existed in the forms of vampires, zombies, parasites, or scientific blunders in books, film, and video games seemingly forever. All of the stories in this kind of subgenre ask a simple question: Who gets to live at the top of the power structure and call the shots?

What I liked was the chapter breakdowns. Ninety percent of the book follows: Hannah then Meg then Carter. What I thought I knew was that they were all on the same timeline but in three different locations. It felt like these three people would be the survivors who meet up in the end. I was incredibly wrong. Way off, in fact. There’s no gimmicky time travel or multiple universes. You won’t have to keep track of convoluted strings like that.

Noted below are where the groups of characters are when readers are introduced to them at the beginning. It’s also worth noting that multiple characters take on new identities which is one of the tools I felt was too weak and cliché for how strong the large, massively entwined story is. What readers will have to keep track of are three separate groups plus additional antagonist groups for them:

The Retreat Group:

  • Carter, Nate, Julia, Jackson, Miles, Welland, and Caren.
  • Others have already died or succumb to the virus. One specifically is discovered stabbed to death and floating in the pool.

The Cable Car Group:

  • Sean, Meg, Sarah, Karl, Max, Paul.
  • One of them is already dead.

The Coach (Bus as an American would say) Group:

  • Lucas, Josh, Ben, Cassie, Hannah, Daniel, Peggy.
  • One of them is just about to die and barely clinging to life.

Antagonists:

  • The Whistlers—people infected who are basically the “monster” of the story even though they still show signs of intelligence and emotion, but rage is the first one to display in abundance.
  • The Department—the powerful people in charge who are supposed to be working on anti-virals, vaccines, boosters, and engineering a new way of life for everyone.
  • The Quinns—a father and his sons who run a barter operation and get to make the rules for their territory since there’s little population and people need supplies.

The author successfully kept the massive cast of characters and three main locations comprehensible. I still had to do a lot of highlighting and note placement to keep track of all the names.

An area that I think was unnecessary was having multiple murder mysteries along with the three protagonists having their own missions. It was a bit too much. As a reader, I was invested in the questions of whether Carter, Hannah, and Meg would get what they needed to survive. Having Who Dun’ It? murders past and present was too much with only one exception—the one which feeds Carter’s entire motivation as a character.

Tudor also does a stellar job with reveals. They come out in a well-timed plot. You can count on the end of each chapter leaving an answer (or at least a theory) and a new question. At the end, as the most impactful answers are revealed, each protagonist has a satisfying conclusion to their own roadmap. The fifth distinct part of the book subtitled, “3,500 Miles Away,” delivers a gratifying end.

I will only give this one spoiler. Does the dog die?

SPOILER
Yes, for humane reasons like Ol’ Yeller.

Summary:

The Drift makes promises of characters being constantly under threats and it certainly delivers in that regard. There are challenges for basic survival: will they get out of X scenario alive?; if they get out, what then?; and is it possible in such a fragile world to trust anyone? The ending brings a conclusion with a little bit of hope that gives readers the sense that not all is lost after decades of the catastrophic viral pandemic.

Rating: 4 stars

4 stars

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