Pros: Completely fascinating from start to finish!
Rating: 5 out of 5
Madelyn’s Nephew, by Ike Hamill, is my favorite so far of the books I’ve read by this author (I think I’ve read six or seven of them). Madelyn lives alone in her grandmother’s cabin, and she’s about ready to give up on life when her nephew, Jacob, shows up. In their world, invisible machines that Madelyn calls Roamers hunt at night and sense body heat–a clicking noise heralds their approach, and if they catch someone they’ll kill him. Despite Madelyn’s distrust of anyone who isn’t her, she eventually decides that Jacob is family and should stay. She ends up getting mixed up in a nearby community, breaking her cozy, safe little life into scary pieces.
The peculiar details of the world Madelyn lives in poke up piece by piece, and the slow reveal of what’s happened to the world is fascinating. Hamill does a great job of filling us in as we go. By the end I felt like I had some idea of what was going on; it was good enough to make me feel satisfied at ending the novel, with enough remaining threads and questions to make me long for a sequel!
Madelyn isn’t what I’d call a likable character, but she’s an enjoyable character, and that’s the more important measure. I loved seeing everything through her point of view, particularly the ways in which she’s justified her hermit-like reclusiveness. Jacob, her nephew, acts as a fantastic prod to change the course of events, question Madelyn’s sanity, and force her into contact with the outside world. The characters have so much depth–even characters who died before the book started.
The Roamers (or Hunters) infuse everything with danger. Hamill endowed them with just enough detail that it made sense that people might be able to escape and avoid them for a time, while creating enough of a credible threat to provide lots of danger for the plot. It kept the tension level high and provided very good pacing.
This is my favorite of Hamill’s books that I’ve read so far, and I can’t wait to read the follow-ons!
SPOILER WARNING: Usually when I mark off a spoiler warning, it’s because I want to discuss something toward the end of the book that I had a strong problem with. In this case the situation is the opposite–I need to say just how awesome a job Hamill does of using an unreliable narrator. The idea that Madelyn strongly shades events is something that creeps in bit by bit, growing from a little buzz in the back of the head to a “whoa!” realization. It shades absolutely everything that happens, and I love it. It’s skillfully done. END SPOILER WARNING