Book review: The Three

The ThreeThe Three by Sarah Lotz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The symmetry of the three stars I’m giving The Three is unintentional. If Goodreads supported half stars it would be 3.5. I quite enjoyed this tale of potential apocalypse but a few issues keep me from giving it a slightly higher rating. That shouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it if they find the premise interesting and enjoy the epistolary format.

The Three chronicles how three children survive three separate plane crashes, all on the same day, leading to speculation ranging from “it’s just a coincidence” to aliens to how the children are the four horsemen of the apocalypse and are ushering in the end times. It is the last theory that takes hold most firmly, particularly in the U.S. and especially among Christian evangelicals and their right wing political allies.

The book uses the epistolary format, framing it largely as an account written by an American journalist (From Crash to Conspiracy) who includes news reports, interviews, chat logs, flight recording transcripts and more to piece together the aftermath of the crashes, the fate of the child survivors and the rapidly deteriorating political landscape as people get swept up in Rapture fever.

Apart from a few lapses where author Sarah Lotz has Americans using British slang, the various reports, interviews and chats are handled quite well, with characters emerging naturally through their own words. The narrative builds slowly as each chapter adds more pieces to the puzzle, though some may be frustrated by the ambiguous ending. I discovered afterward that Lotz has a book out that is apparently the follow-up to The Three, which may partly explain why things aren’t neatly wrapped-up by the end, though to give Lotz credit, the ambiguity feels more like a deliberate stylistic choice–and one that I feel works.

Having said that, I miss the art of telling a story in a single book. Sometimes I just want a good tale, not thousands of pages of world building spread across multiple volumes. Oh well, The Three still works well as a standalone novel, letting the reader decide on their own terrible-things-will-almost certainly-be happening ending.

While I found the characterizations compelling and convincing, the rapidly-shifting geopolitical environment never struck me as particularly credible. The idea that the U.S. could so quickly change into what amounts to a fundamentalist theocracy simply because of the improbability of three plane crashes on the same day with a single child surviving each doesn’t feel plausible. Perhaps even more ludicrous is the idea that China, Japan and the Koreas would form an alliance.
These events are important to underpinning the overall story and in the end never struck me as even being that necessary.

Still, the accounts of those around the survivors are vivid, funny and often harrowing. This book may forever convince anyone feeling a little down to stay far away from spooky Japanese forests.

Recommended. Unless you’re looking for something to read while passing through an airport.

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