Cover Image: The Cautious Traveller's Guide to The Wastelands

The Cautious Traveller's Guide to The Wastelands

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Member Reviews

This was a beautifully written book that blurred the lines between what's real and what isn't, the industrial world and the natural world. Brooks weaves a rich tapestry of characters and sweeping landscapes, and each traveller entices the reader with their own story unfolding differently along the endless tracks.

This made me think of The Fall of the House of Usher and Murder on the Orient Express, with lots of social commentary and touching moments.

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An incredible literary fantasy, exquisitely written and impeccably plotted. Echoes of Snowpiercer and Fallout, but wrapped with intricately woven lives and hearts and connection. The land and the train and the people, all connected, all striving - this is a breathtaking glimpse of a vivid new world.

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A steampunk style fantasy set on a train in an alternate Victorian era? Count me in! ....Or so I thought. It pains me that I ditched this almost halfway as I just couldn't for the life of me get into it. I don't know if it was perhaps the story, which I found a bit boring, or maybe the fact that it was just. so. slowww.

It opens up with the train setting off on its first journey in some time after the events of something devastating that occurred on the last voyage had kept it from running. However there's a lot of mystery over what happened and they dance around the subject a lot. Nevertheless, it sounded compelling and I was initally intrigued enough to try and find out what may happen... except I just found my mind constantly drifting whenever I read and losing concentration. idk if it was maybe because I felt the story just seemed to drag and I kept waiting expecting something exciting to occur, or whether I just couldn't connect with the writing or characters for whatever reason. Apart from Weiwei I found myself not really caring about any of the others, which may partially be a reason I struggled. Usually I have to get attached to or intrigued by the characters to some degree in order to feel fully invested in a story. I also feel like there were elements of magical realism and horror involved which tends to be an aspect of a book I avoid simply because I don't really enjoy it.. and I think I somehow overlooked that before requesting it.

I had high hopes initially because the blurb had me sold so I'm a bit gutted it didn't hit for me like it had for many others.

That's definitely not to say that others won't enjoy this, I think it just didn't tick all the right boxes for me this time.

Disclaimer: This e-ARC was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Steampunk railroad based fantasy, with a female lead. Fast paced, though mainly barrelling through the indescribable Wastelands full of natural mutations, reminiscent of Tepper or Vandermeer. Enjoyable face off between the Empire and the Unknown.

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The Cautious Travellers guide to the Wastelands is set on board the Trans-Siberian train run by The Company. The train travels between Beijing and Moscow.

The Wastelands is a strange and mysterious place that is feared by passengers and staff alike.

I enjoyed the first third or so of this book but just felt like it dragged on after that. The book is well written and the characters are well developed however in my opinion the book could have been around 100 pages shorter and still would have told the complete story.

I would read other books by Sarah Brooks. This one just wasn't for me.

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Loved this! Magical, beautiful, and utterly absorbing. Truly delightful writing, with a constant sense of suspense throughout. The visuals described in this book have really stuck with me, and I loved each one of the characters and what they brought to the story.

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I thought this was a great title and it lived up to its promise of fantasy and quirkiness, with a good dose of steam-punk, all things I love. I felt it became a bit rambling towards the end, but I did really enjoy the mix of intrigue, politics and world-building. I think it would make a great film.

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An incredible new voice in the genre. The trans-Siberia express takes a journey through the wastelands, a toxic land between Beijing and Moscow, where the mutated land is filled with horrors. We join Wei Wei, the child of the train, Marya a woman wanting to learn the secrets of a previous journey with secrets of her own, and Henry Grey who is out to restore his reputation. It is a compelling narrative of the greed of capitalism and the restoration of nature.

The atmosphere of this book is intoxicating, as though you are too are one with the train traversing the impenetrable Wastelands. The world-building was incredible and left me wanting more, there are so many secrets left uncovered and if I could join the journey I would.

The mystery weaved throughout kept me from putting it down and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I think Brooks toed the line between telling us too much and keeping the mystery alive well. But I still want more!

At times you feel the claustrophobia and fear within the train and at others the mesmerising pull of the wastelands wanting to go further and deeper into it to find out more. Brooks has created a wonderful read I’d recommend to fans of the genre!

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What a brilliant adventure, there are elements of horror and sci-fi but it is the mystery of what lies within the wastelands that pulls the reader in. Climb aboard and strap yourself in for a wondrous journey, one filled with strange creatures and a hearty dose of danger, humans full of their own concerns and those with secrets and plans. The last journey was hailed a disaster but this one will be life changing; for the girl of the train, who was born and raised on it, the Professor who has surveyed the land on many crossings and for Marya, desperate to reverse the damage to her fathers reputation.
I loved the interplay between the characters, amongst the passengers and the crew. They had depth and interest and you could easily imagine their lives before this journey. The threads was an interesting idea and I liked how this was used to transform the landscape and beyond. The epilogue was intriguing, I am desperate to read what’s next! This is a great story, utter escapism and one that it's hard to put down or stop thinking about.

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Trains and Maps, two things I’ve loved forever, maps more than trains, but still.

What we have here is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, it starts simple enough, and takes the times to introduce characters in great detail, and many there are. Marya Petrovna, a widow travelling to a destination as yet unknown. WeiWei, the child of the train, born there as her mother died, her father gone as well, all she has ever known is the train. Dr Henry Grey, the best of what the English are, and in that moment, the worst, but these are not the only characters. There’s a rich diversity of characters there, each with their own motivations and drives, for those are not always the same, and there are many to bring forwards until the story begins.

On the surface of it, it’s a trip between Beijing and Moscow, upon the Trans Siberian Express, but it soon becomes apparent that something else has happened here. The landscape upon which they travel is different, somehow altered, at once familiar and yet twisted, whether in a wholesome way or not is not clear.

I believe that there is no such thing as too much worldbuilding, but there is always the temptation to show how well the world has been built, to feature all the aspects of it even though the story does not warrant explaining them. Brooks does not make that mistake, leaving enough of a mystery that it becomes something you want to keep on reading, even when things turn strange.

And they do turn strange.

The wastelands through which the train travels carry some sort of infection, thought to be something in the air, but as the train is brought to a stop, it’s found that there are creatures out there, and beyond the creatures, something else. A stowaway on the train, not human, but not inhuman, not seeking to harm anyone but not acting in ways that everyone can see are without harm.

This is superbly dense storytelling, every chapter advances the storyline in one way or another, every part of it moves something along, even if it’s not in a direction you were expecting. The changes that start occurring from the middle of the book (persevere, it’s worth it), are both unsettling and intriguing, and the lightness of touch with which those things are illuminated is spectacular.

Overall this was a superb book, would recommend it to anyone who favours strong storytelling with a rich cast of well thought through characters and endings that could not have even vaguely been considered at the commencement of the story.

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I will not be reviewing this book publicly as it did not really connect with me. Rather than give it a negative review - it was well written but just didn't connect - I will leave it to others to review.

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Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands really impressed me with it’s clever writing and intriguing worldbuilding, while mixing together elements of Sci-Fi, Horror and Historical Fiction.

In the world Sarah Brooks has created here, the ‘wastelands’ of Siberia have become infested with some incomprehensible and madness-inducing horror, resulting in the bordering nations erecting monstrous walls on their borders to try and contain the threat, whatever that may be. The travel routes that avoid the wastelands are long and laborious, so the ‘Company’ has constructed a railroad and armoured train that runs right through the centre, slashing travel times for those who can afford to travel. There’s a really intense feeling of suspense that the novel builds, as the train rolls out from behind the safety of the Beijing walls. Even more so when it quickly becomes apparent that this will be no ordinary voyage, even by the company’s standards. There are almost certainly elements of horror to the story too, that fans of Mexican Gothic and Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher would love. It’s the kind of book to question whether what you're seeing is real or a hallucination and sign of early onset madness.

Right from the offset, the scene setting is very clever and well-crafted through the use of subtle exposition – we establish for example that one of our lead characters is from St Petersburg, and does not consider themselves ‘of sound mind’, all without being expressly told these facts. Several other sneaky bits of exposition are delivered through snippets of a guidebook to the wastelands owned by several of the characters, and which gives the novel it’s title. The disgraced naturalist Henry Grey was probably my favourite character in the book (though I am a sucker for a morally ambiguous narrator!), and I love how his attitude to the perils of the journey are often in stark contrast to his fellow travellers.

The imagery throughout the novel really is top tier, from the vast and imposing walls of Beijing and Moscow, to the train itself, which is described interestingly as a feat of architecture rather than engineering. The nationalities and aesthetics of the train are a fascinating blend of Russian and Chinese customs. I really like this idea and imagery, and I’m really pleased that the main POV characters of the novel represent both nations, though I would have loved the book to have pushed these themes and the differences between these two nations even more.

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An extraordinarily imagination historical fantasy that takes place on a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The story is told from the viewpoint of three characters: Weiwei is an orphan, born and raised on the train, Marya is a passenger looking for answers surrounding the mystery of the previous train train and Henry Grey is a disgraced naturalist looking for redemption. The train travels from Beijing to Moscow and passes through a vast wild area called the Wastelands. As the journey progresses the boundary between the natural wildness of the outside and the controlled environment within the train starts to blur.
I spent a lot of time whilst reading this story trying to work out if there was any symbolism, hidden metaphors or deep meaning in all the quirkiness. In the end, I gave up trying and just enjoyed the story in all its strangeness. It is essentially a battle between nature (the Wastelands) and capitalist control and power (the train company).
The writing is beautiful and the pace is gentle but compelling. I loved the characters, especially Weiwei.
This is not an action packed mystery but it is an amazing, imaginative story full of wonders. A lovely read.

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This book is fantastical in the true sense of the work. The trans-siberean express runs through the wasteland, where strange plants grow and surreal creatures roam. The very air is tainted. The train is a steam powered fortress that powers through the landscape, fortified so that it never comes into contact with the outside.
The TransSiberia company is a powerful entity and an oppressive presence throughout the novel. The book has three points of view - Weiwei, the child of the train, who knows the train better than anyone; Marya, who is in disguise and trying to find the truth and Henry Grey, who is desperate to get out into the wasteland and collect samples.
The writing shows the atmosphere on the train - partly exciting, partly claustrophobic, vividly. It's set in a sort of alternative history and, although I don't think the time period is specified, it feels like the golden age of steam.
The story goes along at a good pace and I genuinely wasn't sure what was going to happen at the end.
I really enjoyed this book. It's vibrant, imaginative and interesting.
I got a review copy from Netgalley. I requested it mainly because it was set on a steam train (and I'm a sucker for a steam train!).

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I loved the concept here, and there were some creative ideas, but it was just missing that special something that really makes you feel engaged.

I was curious to know how the story would progress and end, but as a dispassionate observer; I felt a little removed from the characters and plot.

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An unusual and imaginative novel for any train traveller. Some unique characters chart the progress of this lengthy train journey as we traverse to the Great Exhibition in Moscow from Beijing. A historical fantasy - I had hoped to find a bit of Agatha Christie’s mystery along the lines of the Orient Express, as opposed to the Trans Siberian, so was a little disappointed. Well written, descriptive but I struggled to engage.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers Orion for this e-ARC.

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Oh wow. I really was blown away by this. The writing style was really engaging, I never wanted to stop reading. I really enjoyed the concept of the novel, it almost reminded me of the 'midnight' episode of Doctor Who. I'm also a sucker for Victorian and Edwardian settings and vibes so this was perfect for me. I was fully immersed in the world. I love fantasy that makes you think about our world in a new way.

I loved the full cast of characters we got to experiences the story through, that really paid off in the end when the pace could be picked up in a way that was extremely satisfying for the reader seeing all angles of the action. Understandably, i bonded the most with Marya, and I would have loved to have seen more of Suzuki, and the two of them together. Initially when i finished the book, I felt like we needed the assurance that the wastelands would not harm anyone, and i thought something was missing from the final act. However, as i sat with this for a week or so, I don't know if this was intentional, but that lack of understanding of the wastelands motivations felt intentional and i loved this book even more.

I will 100% be making a video about how much I loved this book when it comes out, and I will probably personally be buying it for friends and family for birthdays this year!

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Loved it. I wanted to be on the train. Took me a while to click and make sense of it but thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved the characters. Sort of Hitchhikers Guide meets Murder on Orient Express in dystopia
Definitely recommend. Quirky, out there but really really good

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What a book, since page one Sarah get me hooked with this book. What a amazing debut for some writer. The Cautious Traveller's Guide to The Wastelands is a gripping post-apocalyptic story that have many POVs of the group of travellers on the Trans Siberian Express. What a way of create a epic atmosphere in a book, that was my favourite part, plus it was delightful written and the pace was perfect for the book too. Characters got me hooked to the book too, the whole sense of travelling around the world that is a wreck and everyone keep their own secrets and their own battles. Now I need a paper copy of this book and I will keep my eye for more work of this talented author. Thank you very much to NetGalley, the editorial and the author for the fantastic ARC

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The Cautious Traveller's Guide to The Wastelands is an amazing debut novel. It’s a gripping post-apocalyptic read that follows the multiple POVs of the group of travellers on the Trans Siberian Express as they head through the desolate and dangerous wasteland. A absolute must-read for fans of dystopian fiction.

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