I love books that change as you read them. That was one of the reasons I loved Max Brooks' World War Z (and before you ask, of course I though the book was better, Brad Pitt or no)– the effects of the book didn't just circle one person, but an entire world, various countries, and outsiders looking in on people directly involved in the issue. The same kind of journalistic approach is taken again in Sarah Lotz's novel The Three, one of the creepiest books I've read all year. It's not scary in the way horror movies are scary– very few jump scares and cliche horror moments– but a significant of realistic scares, the fears that people never want to voice aloud or consider might be possible, fears that will shake the foundations of the entire globe. The Three is unpredictable, deep, and not a book to be missed. Since it will be hard to delve into one of the reasons I enjoyed the novel so much, a spoiler alert is going into effect.
Four simultaneous plane crashes. Three child survivors. A religious fanatic who insists the three are harbingers of the apocalypse. What if he's right?
The world is stunned when four commuter planes crash within hours of each other on different continents. Facing global panic, officials are under pressure to find the causes. With terrorist attacks and environmental factors ruled out, there doesn't appear to be a correlation between the crashes, except that in three of the four air disasters a child survivor is found in the wreckage.
Dubbed 'The Three' by the international press, the children all exhibit disturbing behavioural problems, presumably caused by the horror they lived through and the unrelenting press attention. This attention becomes more than just intrusive when a rapture cult led by a charismatic evangelical minister insists that the survivors are three of the four harbingers of the apocalypse. The Three are forced to go into hiding, but as the children's behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, even their guardians begin to question their miraculous survival...
The book begins with various characters hearing or witnessing the crashes, and following them as they and the rest of the world struggle with the horrific ordeals, trying to discover what exactly happened, and why three small children were able to survive. As the story progresses and answers are demanded, a sharp religious factor comes into play, men of cloth stating that these children are none other than three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Sounds ridiculous, right?
Except... things get weird. The remaining family members and guardians of the children begin to experience bizarre events, and it becomes clear that the children have been changed from their ordeal, and not in any way that indicates they could be in shock or suffering from amnesia. As the story continues and the events become increasingly disturbing, the concept of a religious/paranormal answer becomes more apparent, until the lines between the truth and fiction waver unpredictably. Watching how atheist and non-believers viewed the seemingly absurd religious perspective– and how quickly they turned to find comfort in it– was pretty damn scary.
I'm going to say straight off the bat that this may not be a good book for men and women with strong religious beliefs. While it wasn't blatantly offensive to them, it did seem to carry an undertone that extremists could go too far, and that in their desperation they would turn to truly appalling measures. It didn't vilify religion in any sense, but it didn't paint a flattering portrait either.
Though that could be said for all the characters. Nobody was perfect, which helped me empathize with the characters and believe they were real people. Writing the chapters and interviews gave a lot of different perspectives about the lengths people were willing to go to protect these children, and how they viewed the media constantly hovering over their shoulders. I even enjoyed the chapters told from the POV of a character who was seemingly random, save for the fact that they witnessed or took part in a crucial moment of the plot.
What I might have enjoyed most was the ending, and how the "author" of the book continued to tell the story from her perspective, and how radically it was received on its "publication." That was an angle I'd never seen before, and I liked the way it extended the mystery of the story.
If I have a complaint, it's about the ending. I like endings that are kind of left to the imagination, but I do like to have something to base my imagination on. The Three didn't really give me that. I decided on my own conclusion, but I would have liked a little more clarity.
So, who is this book for? Fans of thrillers who have an interest in conspiracy theories. Sounds like a weird, isolated target audience, but it holds true. The book fascinated me, and there were definitely a few twists that I did not see coming. Totally a book for a reader who wants to go on a ride, and have no idea where it will take them.