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Literature / Wander

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Wander is a post-apocalyptic novel by Lewis Bright Rees.

Sixteen years ago, a virus swept across the United States, locking its victims in a permanent state of heightened emotion. Wander is a teenage girl who spends her days walking from place to place, constantly keeping one step ahead of the infected.

Everything changes when she meets Dagger, a boy on the run from the smilers. Together, they travel to Sanctuary- the last remaining safe zone- hoping to meet up with the rest of his group along the way.

Originally written as part of a Nanowrimo contest (where it was one of the winners), Wander was self-published in 2017, with a sequel, Dagger, currently in the works.

Wander contains examples of:
  • Airvent Passageway: Utilized by Wander and Dagger in the prison.
  • And I Must Scream: Dagger theorizes this is the case with the feelers, and they might still have a semblance of sapience- enough to be horrified by their actions, but unable to control their bodies.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Wander gives Dagger a platonic one after he abandons her to track Romeo down.
  • Archer Archetype: Subverted and played straight. Stoic, standoffish Wander prefers a crossbow, whereas the much friendlier Dagger’s weapon of choice is a bow. They both use guns when they’re actively fighting but on a practical level crossbows and bows are much quieter, which gives them an advantage where they need to be stealthy or when they’re hunting, and unlike bullets the ammo can be reused.
  • Autocannibalism: Temple mentions a victim of the smilers who had her limbs severed and fed to her.
  • Battle Couple: Downplayed with Dagger and Romeo. They’re both competent fighters, but they only fight when pushed into a corner.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason that Wander grows so loyal to Dagger and his group over the course of the novel is that Dagger goes out of his way to befriend her.
    • Monica and Rocky decide to join Wander because she spared Monica’s life.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Wander, Dagger and Pan reach Sanctuary but Temple, Buddy and Heather are dead, along with the rest of Dagger’s group. The sole exception is Romeo, who’s nowhere to be found, so a depressed Dagger leaves Sanctuary to try and find him.
  • Broken Ace: Wander. She’s skilled enough to have survived alone since she was eleven, but it’s come at the expense of almost all her interpersonal skills. Dagger is horrified by how far she’s willing to go at times, and it’s outright stated that a part of the reason she decided to save him was because she hoped he could teach her to be around people again.
  • Chekhov's Skill: When Dagger and Wander are having a snowball fight, he takes her by surprise by shoving a fistful of snow in her face from close range. Wander later uses this trick herself during her fight with Darwin.
    • Subverted with Dagger learning to pick locks; Although Wander’s teaching him how to do it, he never successfully puts his lessons into practice.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The smilers forte.
  • Combat Sadomasochist: The smilers. When in battle they aim to disable their opponents, and only kill them as a last resort, preferring to take them back to their base to torture them at will. Taking any amount of damage makes them as happy as anything else.
  • Contrasting Sequel Main Character: According to the author, the sequel will focus primarily on Dagger.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Wander might avoid danger wherever possible, but she still pulls this whenever it would give her an advantage. Leading a herd of fighters into a bar before she sets it on fire, diving off a cliff because she thinks the river below is deep enough to cushion her fall, and escaping Lycan by hiding among a nest of weepers all count.
    • Dagger also has moments of this such as delaying his torture at the hands of the smilers by playing hide and seek with them.
  • Declaration of Protection: Wander promises herself that she’ll get Dagger to Sanctuary, and nothing's going to stop her from doing it.
  • Determinator: Absolutely nothing will stop Dagger from getting back to Romeo, even if that means walking through a blizzard, in the middle of the night and in unfamiliar terrain, just to gain ground.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Wander crosses it after she kills Heather. Dagger passes it later, when he, Wander and Pan reach Sanctuary but Romeo is nowhere to be found.
  • Distressed Dude: Dagger, when he first meets Wander. played with in the prison, where he does need Wander to rescue him but actually pulls off a lot of the heavy lifting to actually exercise her plan, and manages to take out four smilers while she's tied up.
  • Easily Forgiven: Downplayed. After Wander kills Heather, Dagger is furious enough to banish her from the group. However, Romeo and Temple are able to calm him down very quickly, and Romeo mentions when he encounters Wander in Holden’s Mill that Dagger understood that it was an accident and was desperate to get her back- something that’s later confirmed in the prison.
  • Eye Scream: One smiler has cut his eyelids in half.
  • Facial Horror: Smilers mutilate their faces, particularly around the mouths.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Darwin can be downright charming when he wants to be, but shows his true colors when something interferes with his plans.
  • Fingore: Wander loses a finger to the smilers.
  • Feel No Pain: Subverted with the smilers. It’s not that they don’t feel pain, it’s that pain makes them as happy as anything else.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Wander and Dagger.
  • Foil: Dagger is one to Wander. She’s a stoic, introverted, and ruthless Born Survivor. He’s naïve, friendly, hotheaded, and frequently horrified both by Wander’s actions and the fact that those actions so easy for her.
  • For the Evulz: The smilers only torture people because it’s so much fun.
  • Foreshadowing: Dagger shares his name with the heroine in Final Fantasy IX. Like her, he goes through an Important Haircut. Considering the fact that he specifically took his name from her, it borders on Enforced Trope.
    • Whenever she talks about Temple, Wander mentions that she lost him, and never mentions that he died.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Wander may have her heart in the right place, and she genuinely cares about her friends, but that’s about as far as her sympathies extend. Just because she doesn’t go looking for trouble doesn’t mean she has any qualms about killing, or even torture, if that’s what it takes to survive. Partially subverted, in that she recognises that just being good won't cut it if she makes it to Sanctuary, and hopes that Dagger can teach her to make genuine human connections.
  • Handicapped Badass: Downplayed with Temple, who has a limp resulting from Wander stabbing him in the leg. Despite this he managed to escape the smilers again and survive for another three years.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The smilers laughter is enough to send even hardened survivors running for the hills.
  • Hero of Another Story: Romeo is the star of Sole Survivor, a short story which follows him and Temple shortly before they meet up with Wander’s group.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Defied! When they're planning their escape from the prison, Wander mentions that even if they get their hands on a gun, it should only be used as a last resort because, while it might disguise their location somewhat, it'd still let the smilers know that a gun has been fired. Wander, Dagger and Temple use bows when they need to be stealthy.
  • Important Haircut: Dagger cuts his hair the night before he leaves Sanctuary as a symbol of his resolve.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight. Pan and Dagger are the only survivors of Camp Greenbow to make it to Sanctuary. However, while they’re being held captive at the prison, Dagger asks Terry to kill her if necessary to save her from the smilers. Given what the smilers would do to her, it's clear that this would be a mercy.
  • Ironic Echo: Darwin twice gives someone a gun and orders them to shoot someone they care about as a show of loyalty. The first time, the gun is empty. The second time, not so much.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Wander pulls this on Monica. It’s implied it’s not the first time she’s done it, too.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Dagger might be horrified by the extremes Wander is willing to go to at times, but he usually concedes that she has a point.
  • Leap of Faith: When she’s cornered by Darwin on a clifftop, Wander escapes by jumping into the river below, having previously knocked a rock into the water and heard a splash which led her to believe the water was deep enough to cushion her fall.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: The survivors of Camp Greenbow do this when pursued by the smilers. Justified, in their mind, in that they were outnumbered, desperate, and underarmed. They do, at least, set a rendezvous point.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Wander and Dagger develop this relationship.
  • Meaningful Name: Zigzagged. The vast majority of survivors are Only Known by Their Nickname, and these names tend to be indicative of their personalities. As far as real names go, Wander mentions that her mom chose hers, Ivy, purely because it seemed resilient, which seemed like a good quality to have. It does give her the inspiration to escape from the smilers via the air vents, though.
    • Dagger’s real name is Felix, which means luck.
  • Mercy Kill: Wander pulls this on Buddy when he’s injured.
    • Temple pulls this on Wander’s mother in the backstory, and later pulls one on Doreen.
  • Morality Chain: Dagger becomes this for Wander. Wander, herself, is one for Temple.
  • Nightmare Face: Smilers routinely mutilate themselves, but give special attention to their faces. Romeo theorizes that they do it as a form of warpaint.
  • Odd Friendship: Wander and Dagger quickly develop one. She’s an introverted, stoic antihero who’s learned the hard way to shoot first and ask questions later. He’s an All-Loving Hero with Determinator tendencies.
  • Offscreen Moment Of Badass: Both Temple and Dagger manage to escape smiler nests, something that most people consider impossible. Dagger not only managed to escape, he managed to rescue six other survivors and wipe out some of the smilers in an explosion.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Enforced. Survivors keep their real names secret to avoid getting too close to others.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The feelers.
    • Screamers are non-hostile, reacting to every stimulus with fear. Some communities even use them as guard dogs. Unless they’re cornered, the only danger they pose is attracting other infected.
    • Weepers are constantly depressed, moving at an amble and gathering together in crowds. They’re generally harmless, but if they’re particularly hungry and outnumber their victim, they can become a threat.
    • Fighters are akin to rage zombies.
    • Smilers are intelligent enough to use tools and even treat wounds, and are overcome by joy. Their MO is to torture their victims for an extended period of time until their bodies give out, and to torture each other- or themselves- if they have no victims available.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • It's clear that Wander and Temple were as close as family before he tried to leave her to the smilers to save his own skin.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Wander and Dagger, by the end of the book. She's asexual and he's gay, so both know that nothing will ever happen between then, but on Wander's side at least she considers her relationship with Dagger to be the single most important one in her life.
  • Posthumous Character: Wander's mother is long dead by the time the story starts, but mentioned frequently.
  • Pretend We're Dead: A variation. People can trick smilers and weepers by pretending to be one of them, but this has limited uses; weepers have no qualms about eating their own, and smilers will still torture each other if there’s no available victims. This is how Temple and, later, Wander and Dagger escape separate smiler nests.
    • Another variation occurs when Wander is being hunted by Lycan. She hides in a weeper nest to escape him, rather than them.
  • Protagonist-Centred Morality: Discussed. Wander firmly believes that every villain is the hero of their own story, and comes to realize that the only thing that sets her apart from the raiders is that she was faster. It doesn’t hold her back, though.
  • The Stoic: Wander, at first.
  • The Quiet One: Wander, to the point where Dagger has to teach her how to speak properly again.
  • Real Name Reveal: Survivors generally only give their names to people they trust completely. Wander and Temple address each other as Ivy and Arthur just before his Heroic Sacrifice, and Wander trades names with Dagger, which is Felix, as he’s leaving Sanctuary.
    • Monica revealing her real name is what convinces Wander to spare her, and Wander later reveals her real name to her- however, we don't find out what it is at the time.
  • Sadistic Choice: Twice throughout the book, Darwin gives someone a gun and orders them to shoot a loved one to prove their loyalty. The first time the gun is unloaded, but the second time results in Rocky’s death.
  • Secret-Keeper: Outside of settlements, people keep their names a secret, only divulging them to their most trusted companions. Monica revealing her true name to Wander and Dagger is enough to convince Wander to free her.
  • Sequel Hook: Wander, Dagger and Pan reach Sanctuary, but Dagger leaves to try and find Romeo, and Darwin is still out there.
  • Shout-Out: All over the place.
  • Straight Gay: Dagger and Romeo are both gay, but neither have much in the way of distinctly feminine qualities or interests. Dagger is more in touch with his emotions than most if not all, of the characters, though.
  • The Social Darwinist: Darwin.
  • Stepford Smiler: Dagger.
  • The Straight and Arrow Path: Wander and Temple both use a crossbow as their weapon of choice, and Dagger prefers a bow and arrow. They use guns in active combat due to their greater speed, but since Wander and Temple prefer to stay unnoticed wherever possible, and Wander later passes this lesson on to Dagger, they use their bows wherever possible due to the fact that they're strong, accurate, and stealthy.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Romeo’s brother, Tom, entrusted Pan to Dagger after getting injured by the smilers.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Doreen, although she’s long dead by the time the book starts. Her diary paints her as a kind, sweet old woman just doing her best to get by, and Temple’s motive for her Mercy Kill is to save her from the smilers, instead of leaving her to them, purely because she was a genuinely good, kind person.
  • True Companions: Wander and Dagger become this over the course of the novel. Wander did have this sort of relationship with Temple, before he tried to leave her for the smilers.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Wander and Dagger have shades of this. They bicker frequently, especially at the start of their relationship, but barring a couple of major blow-up’s it’s clear that they’d do anything for each other. It’s telling that Wander decides to let herself be captured by the smilers, completely intent on being tortured by them, just to have a chance to rescue him.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Wander hasn’t survived this long without learning to be ruthless, so comparatively innocent Dagger calls her out hard on occasion. When she kills Heather, he actually casts her out from their group.
    • Wander herself gives one to Dagger, after he leaves her in the middle of the night to walk through a blizzard to try and catch up with Romeo.
  • What You Are in the Dark: After Dagger, Romeo and Pan are captured by the smilers, Wander has every opportunity to leave them to their fates, but decides to rescue them instead.