The Ferryman (2023) Book Review – Justin Cronin’s sci-fi is an absolute belter

Justin Cronin’s sci-fi is an absolute belter

The Ferryman is one of the best sci-fi novels of the year, and it sets a high bar that very few are likely to hit in 2023. Expertly written, Justin Cronin’s latest expertly blends ideas and concepts from The Truman Show, Westworld, Minority Report and Inception, creating a fascinating paradisiac world with a gripping mystery lurking beneath the surface.

The story takes place on a hidden island utopia called Prospera, and it’s worth persevering with this one because the opening 100 pages or so are a tad confusing and difficult to really get into the flow of what’s happening. However, once you cross that path, The Ferryman navigates through a series of twists and shocking revelations, all the while deepening the mystery, making for an unmissable page-turner.

On Prospera, citizens enjoy long, fulfilling lives until monitors placed in their forearms, meant to measure physical and psychological well-being, register a low number. At that point, those individuals are forced to “retire”, embarking on a ferry ride over to the “Nursery” where bodies are renewed, memories wiped clean and life begins anew.

At the center of this world is Proctor Bennett, a Ferryman who works for the Department of Social Contracts. He’s had a good career, helping numerous people through retirement. However, he has a history of sleepwalking and dreaming, which are both incredibly rare, nigh-on impossible for Prosperan residents.

If that wasn’t enough, Proctor’s monitor numbers have been dropping. When he’s tasked with retiring his own father, Malcolm, he gives Proctor a cryptic message before passing, casing a big scene on the pier that alerts the authorities.

This essentially sets off a chain reaction, as Proctor begins to question what’s happening around him, while the company he works for tries to keep him on the straight and narrow. However, rumblings of a resistance group, known as Arrivalists, gives weight that this whole paradise might just come crashing down should this rebellion be successful.

To give much more away about the story would be a disservice but what’s particularly great here is the way Cronin makes every single sentence count. I know that sounds cliched, given it’s something all writers are told to do, but this book adds continued subtle foreshadowed layers to dialogue and character interactions. These segments are then reflected back later on, with much more clarity and meaning. I’m being careful not to spoil anything here but there are some genuinely shocking revelations and a couple of chapter endings that had me gasping in shock.

This is a complex book though, no doubt, and some of the themes The Ferryman plays with are absolutely mouthwatering. Subtle underpinnings of class, along with wealth and our own destiny are at the forefront of this book’s ideas. But then so too are the notions of humanity, what it means to dream and desire, and whether we really are the architects of our own destiny. These are huge ideas that are bounced around the 538 pages, and that doesn’t make a particularly easy read at times.

Like a rich meal at a fancy restaurant, this is not meant to be wolfed down in a few sittings. Cronin has crafted a wonderful sci-fi book that’s designed to be consumed in small, easy-to-digest pieces, allowing the flavours to roll around the tongue and fill your senses with proverbial fireworks before moving onto the next.

However, if you do binge-read this (like I did) then you’ll find yourself desperate for more when the story ends, and that’s perhaps the best compliment one can give to this book.

The Ferryman is a fantastically written sci-fi. It’s a mind-bending and oftentimes thought provoking book about humanity and our reality. It’s easily one of the best books this year and an absolute must-read.

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  • Verdict - 10/10

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