Book Review: The Great Migration
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
Death, destruction, and a fight to preserve the kingdom
The Great Migration is a highly engaging read that constantly surprises with new perspectives, new characters, and bewildering predicaments.
This story opens with carnage: Bellona looks upon the fresh corpses of her companions strewn across a campsite. They knew they had embarked on a grueling expedition known to be deadly, but the loss feels heavy. Readers are spared no gory details of the blood or guts on display, and learn that another vicious attack is on its way.
We meet a collection of travelers from various backgrounds in this novel, and the story is told through observations and social commentary. Chapters alternate between an admirable, reasonable king; his royal court as they initiate protocols to protect their people; his obnoxious teenage daughter; her patient but determined tutor; and what’s left of the group that embarked on the deadly expedition. Author Steve Ramirez smoothly transitions between different perspectives, each of them ultimately interlinked.
It’s partially a survival adventure: Will these travelers make it through the night alive? Can they defend themselves from the imminent attacks? The other part is a story of community: the friends and family they find and protect along the way and the truths they discover about other cultures as the threats loom closer.
Then things dramatically shift as a city-wide quarantine takes place, and it is the stuff of zombie stories. The kingdom is under attack of a rapidly spreading fever that kills quickly, a fire of rage coming over anyone who contracts the illness. The city dissolves into destructive panic when the warning alarms sound. We experience a city being burned to the ground as people hide out in any buildings they can access.
Ramirez’s worldbuilding has the strongest clarity amid its chaos. When the characters are thrown into frantic activity and distress (which happens often in a story about trying to avoid attack or disease outbreak), the reader is immersed in all the detail of what is happening without being the least bit overwhelmed. It’s extraordinary writing.
The truths in The Great Migration are disturbing, repeatedly deconstructing our understanding on the title: “The Great Migration” is not simply one trip, but a myth to be unpacked, and with each new character, we come closer to realizing that there may not only be one truth.
When a lack of information is combined with city-wide fear, shocking revelations become an allegory for anti-xenophobia: “Nothing fuels hate, as does fear.” This novel reminds us how unforgiving humans can be when faced with the unfamiliar.
But there is hope in the kindness that individual characters show each other: rescuing those in need before they can even ask for help, demonstrating generosity even at great personal risk. I appreciate that even the charming, beloved dog, though lost and found throughout the story, survives despite the dangerous circumstances.
The debates on philosophy and strategy between characters are enthralling. Their stories are rich with local customs and talk of various homelands. The author has created an array of traditions and immersed us into them seamlessly: gestures of kindness, mourning rituals, long-held legends. We are presented with a clear sense of the kingdom’s architecture, public health protocols, its religions and the conflicts between them, even the fractured faith systems’ impact on the youth. And all the terminology is easily accessible. The Great Migration’s worldbuilding is nothing short of masterful.
A palace elder explains to the young prince about a bard’s performance: “That’s the sign of a story well told. When the audience loses track of where they are and how long they’ve been there, you know they’ve been truly captivated by the tale.”
The quote holds true for this novel. One simply loses time enjoying being immersed in this story. “The magnificent ones make it look easy,” the elder explains, and Ramirez certainly does. His writing is never overwhelming or intimidating, but rather welcomes you into the arms of what’s happening.
This novel is excellent for those who seek action—whether it be between palace guards in ferocious sword-fighting combat or civilians defending an attack against giant hyenas—as long as you’re ready for some thought-provoking concepts about our future. Is it possible to adapt genetic engineering so far that it backfires on our bodies? What if our artificial intelligence triggered a black hole opening between universes?
The Great Migration will also appeal to readers who enjoy observing intelligent multicultural characters as they identify threats, calculate risks, and devise solutions, those who are intrigued by a society struck by pandemonium from a source unknown.
The novel ends as it begins: With characters overlooking “the dead visible in all directions” and tragedy in their hearts, but so much has been uncovered since the first deaths hit, and there’s new knowledge to share—with the right people at the right time.
The Great Migration is a satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable read, rich with culture and fascinating characters.
Genre: Science Fiction / Adventure
Print Length: 413 pages
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