C.J. Tudor’s THE DRIFT is a terrific apocalyptic thriller with clever construction, a cascade of page-turning thriller elements, and a strong thematic focus on how crisis brings people together and tears them apart.
The story follows three main narratives, each with its own protagonist. Hannah, a student at an elite Academy, awakens on a crashed bus that was evacuating the school to a secure mountaintop facility called The Retreat due to an outbreak of a viciously persistent disease that is slowly destroying the world. Former detective Meg awakens with several strangers on a cable car suspended above a snowstorm; they were on their way to The Retreat, but the power is out and they’re stranded. And Carter, who works at The Retreat, struggles to survive with a small band of other survivors, but there may be a murderer in their midst.
Tudor proves herself a thriller master, as each of these storylines quickly portrays clear, easy-to-remember characters, sets up a locked room and ticking time bomb, and then bombards them with an avalanche of obstacles, problems, and escalating threats. By the end, we get to know their backstories and why they’re here, how the narratives tie together, and what it’s all adding up to.
I liked almost everything about this book. The pandemic is handled in an interesting way, the thriller style keeps the pages turning at a swift pace, there is some engaging reader detective work about how the storylines tie together, and there’s a solid thematic focus on how crisis unites and then breaks societies. As a fan of apocalyptic fiction, I’ve always been interested in how people would react to something like say zombies. I’ve always been a believer that humans are primarily cooperative animals and that this trait helped us reach the top of the food chain. This cooperation, however, is based on the principle of reciprocity–if I do for you, you do for me. Eventually, that principle may break down, and then it’s every person for themselves.
One potential downside for readers, particularly apocalyptic fiction fans, is there isn’t a lot of backstory on the state of the world and the pandemic itself. Almost all the events in the book happen in isolation, with the story’s focus being on these characters and their immediate survival. And if you’re new to thrillers, be prepared for a veritable kitchen sink of sudden obstacles.
Overall, I really enjoyed THE DRIFT and will be keeping an eye out for future works by this author.