What I loved most about What the Thunder Said is the main character, Caulie, being an academic researcher – this gave her personality an interesting twist and is also not one I have read about often. However, where there were positives, there were also drawbacks, and so the potential of the book fell short.
One day, a whole battalion of soldiers mysteriously fall dead. These soldiers, infected with the Pollution, are the army’s single fighting force and if whatever killed them comes back, they are in serious trouble. So they seek out the academic expert on Pollution, Caulie Alexandrian. Caulie has never been to the battle front, but soon she is transported there, shoved into the real world that academia did not prepare her for. Tasked with not only surviving in the battlefield, Caulie must also unravel this mysterious weapon and build one of her own.
The first concern of mine were the pacing issues. There was not much that happened in the beginning. Sure, there were events that moved the plot, but there was nothing that kept me reading to the next chapter. Additionally, in some sections I just felt there was a lot of ‘info dump’. All at once, we would have paragraphs of world building that were extremely detailed: telling us about the history, but they felt out of place. We needed that information, because it put actions into context, and the entire world into perspective, but not in huge chunks. It made the book feel like it had pauses, starts, and stops.
Caulie’s perspective was the most enjoyable part of the book. She is an academic researcher and not equipped to be in the trenches, literally. I could empathize with her intelligent researcher side, with her out of touch quality with the world, and with her disconnect between her actual research subjects – the polluted soldiers/society – and being face to face with them. Which brings me to my next point. I was extremely disappointed we never got a real perspective from any one of these ‘polluted’ people. (Just a caveat, the term ‘polluted’ merely refers to their mental state, voices in their head, and a few other societal things within their species. Their actual species is referred to as Tracchies. They are generally a different species than Caulie, who is a Haphan).
Shanter, Caulie’s helpie Tracchie, has got to be my favorite of the book. He was insightful, unfiltered, and unapologetic. At the same time, there was a vulnerability to his character that won me over entirely. Mostly because of the relationship he has with Caluie’s species. In this world, the Tracchies are sub-servient to the Haphans and are fighting on the front line against the Southern Tracchies. But they have little choice in the matter and the Haphan’s are also terribly rude and dismissive to their soldiers, the Tracchies. That being said, I would have loved, and benefitted, from Shanter’s perspective. It would have given the novel more balance. Balance which was sorely missing, because I felt like I was only ever reading about it from the ‘oppressor’ point of view.
One of the ways that this ‘clicked’ for me, was that some of the Haphan’s weapons are sentient. They are capable of pondering their existence and even refusing to fight. In this way, they have rights that the Tracchie’s do not. As a whole this merely showed me the ways that these beings, and Tracchies, are turned into weapons.
In general, I felt like the entire book was about Caulie’s perspective switch from a scientist that viewed the Tracchies as research material, to one who views them as people. That has its merits of its own, but I would have just wanted a little more balance. However, even in the end the ‘moral’ of the ending was a little muddied for me. While Shanter helps us see that sometimes we are being ‘puppeted’ beyond our control, or even in our control, Caulie’s ending seems to both support and deny this. I was expecting more of Caulie and the story as a whole. I will not spoil it for you, but I was expecting there to be more of a message, besides Caulie’s journey of discovery.
To sum up this review, I enjoyed the academic perspective of Caulie, as well as the intellectual debates and materials, but the story fell short for me for many reasons: imbalance, pacing issues, and the ending.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Kindle Scout.
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