‘Storms and flooding are worsening around the world, and a mysterious immune disorder has begun to afflict the young. Sophie Perella is about to begin her senior year of high school in Toronto when her little sister, Kira, is diagnosed. Their parents’ marriage falters under the strain, and Sophie’s mother takes the girls to Oxford, England, to live with their Aunt Irene. An Oxford University professor and historical epidemiologist obsessed with relics of the Black Death, Irene works with a Centre that specializes in treating people with the illness. She is a friend to Sophie, and offers a window into a strange and ancient history of human plague and recovery. Sophie just wants to understand what’s happening now; but as mortality rates climb, and reports emerge of bodily tremors in the deceased, it becomes clear there is nothing normal about this condition – and that the dead aren’t staying dead. When Kira succumbs, Sophie faces an unimaginable choice: let go of the sister she knows, or take action to embrace something terrifying and new.’
I went into The Migration with certain expectations, thanks in large part to the above blurb, and quotes online that called it “evocative of Stephen King’s classic Pet Sematary”, but Helen Marshall not only subverted everything that I was expecting the book to be, but managed to draw me in to a genuinely unique and imaginative horror story.
The horror of The Migration doesn’t come from the mysterious illness – Juvenile Idiopathic Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or JI2 –that plagues the world’s youth but from the slow decay of the world. Set close to the River Thames in Oxfordshire, Sophie and her family deal with frequent flooding, constant blackouts, destruction around the coast, food shortages, and a pervading sense of hopelessness.
With our real world close to the point of irrevocable damage from pollution it’s a scenario that seems so much more real than many an apocalyptic fiction. There isn’t some huge cataclysm that hits out of nowhere, but the slow unfolding of society’s end thanks to our own thoughtless actions.
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This end of the world appears to play a major part in the mysterious disease that afflicts children and teens, though not in the ways that you’d expect. Throughout the early stages of the book Marshall appears to be steering the reader towards a certain conclusion as to what the disease is, especially when bodies are being reported to move after death, and even characters in the story reference zombie fiction; yet this isn’t a story about the undead, or some other zombie-like condition that is often popular in the apocalypse genre.
What begins as a disease to be feared – and there are some genuinely disturbing moments at times – changes into something beautiful and full of wonder.
The Migration focuses on humanity’s will to survive, but not by fighting, and raging against the end, but by embracing change. Those afflicted by JI2 aren’t victims, or monsters, they’re those with a chance to survive in this new world that is coming into being. But it’s not an easy road to this realisation for the characters. In the end it comes down to love, and even a little hope. Despite Kira only being in the book for a short while it’s the love between her and Sophie that drives everything that happens in the story, that brings her fractured family back together, and gives Sophie hope for a better tomorrow.
The Migration is a book that will subvert expectations, will take the reader on a winding journey that will give them heartbreak, fill them with wonder, and leave them full of hope for a better future. More than just a horror, an apocalypse story, a tale of love and family, The Migration is a story of survival for humanity.