I can’t think of another story quite like this. It is reflective of “The Road” with the main part of the story showing us a pained journey through a dangerous landscape. I didn’t get the “Firefly” comparison at all because this has quite a different tone (if you’re expecting fun characters, shootouts, and Whedon wit, this is not that). But, there are definitely great Sci-Fi elements (a terraformed planet, native creatures, etc) while much of the story feels like a Western too. It also feels post-apocalyptic as these few survivors struggle to cross the abandoned world that’s been overtaken by the natural landscape. The author wrote in unique language and terms that make Idyll feel otherworldly but familiar too. All this blends together for some really great world-building.
The four main characters are believable, and I liked the use of siblings. Walt is the brains, Samuel the brawn. Their sibling rivalry is understandable, especially in their extreme situation. How they each relate to their comatose mother was very touching and understandable, and this added a lot of heart to the story. Miriam and Virginia are more loving toward each other, but their differences also create a bit of friction between them. (The author went to somewhat exhausting lengths to describe them physically, however, which was my only real complaint about this book.) When these four come together, the whole dynamic of the group becomes a central aspect to the story even while so much is going on around them. Many times I wondered what I would do in their shoes, and there are no easy answers.
Then there’s the mystery of the Lullaby, which haunts this book and creates a lot of tension. You’re told early on that certain words, if heard, will induce a coma where the sleeper then speaks the words over and over, further spreading the “infection” to anyone who hears them. Through a lot of the book I wondered what these words were, but at the same time I was afraid for the characters to hear them. When the words finally DO show up, that’s when I got chills. How the words are revealed is brilliant and creepy and heartbreaking. (It didn’t help that my Kindle read this part of the book to me while I was trying to fall asleep, so the words were said in a disembodied, subhuman voice. THAT is the way to go if you never want to sleep again.)
I don’t want to give away any plot points, but there is a definite twist where the whole story flips into something different. You go from feeling like this is a Western to suddenly — Oh, yep, there’s the Sci-Fi! I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but it turned out to be really, really clever and set the stage for things to come.
Definitely read this one if you like genre-bending, character-driven Sci-Fi.