The aliens have always been here; it’s just about time that you notice them.
Wild’s End is a two-volume series set in the United Kingdom in the 1930s, where luxuries like telephones and steam engines are just making their way into the small town of Lower Crowchurch. In this peaceful town of nosy neighbors, the greatest disagreement is about whose sponge cake is judged first place at the annual fête. This peacefulness is quickly interrupted when Mr. Fawkes, a poacher, drunkard, and general troublemaker interrupts a town meeting to announce the arrival of a falling star—a star that has just burnt his best friend to a crisp. The only one to take Mr. Fawkes seriously is Clive Slipaway, an ex-navy admiral seeking a quieter life after his return from the war. Unfortunately for Mr. Slipaway, the falling star—and what came with it—signaled the end of peace, and the start of a desperate struggle for survival.
A handful of residents from Lower Crowchurch are abruptly pulled together through tragic circumstances, struggling to defend themselves against a fiery enemy resembling a glass lantern with metallic spidery legs. Joining Mr. Fawkes and Mr. Slipaway are Alphred Swaggers, a young boy seeking justice, Susan Peardew, a reclusive writer, and Peter Minks, a reporter for the local paper. With a plot of quickly mounting tensions, our characters have only just begun to understand the enemy when they are put under house arrest by the military. Seeking to control the rampant destruction at hand, the military suspects that one of our characters is at fault—that one of them is an alien in disguise. To try to remedy the situation, they bring in the only experts they can find—science fiction writers. However, the problem is much more worse than any of them could have imagined.
Each chapter in the two volumes is followed by a few pages of supportive text, such as an excerpt from the fictional newspaper, pages from Peardew’s writing, or classified government documents. These long-form texts serve to further contextualize the story and to develop the world of the story. However, these sections are so text-heavy and dense that I found myself skipping over them to continue the story.
The humor in Wild’s End lies chiefly in animal puns, with the characters’ names and a few choice phrases (‘get yer flippin’ paws off me!’). Aside from that, the story is one of terror and hopelessness. There is surprising depth to the terror that Abnett crafts. You might expect that having animals for characters would lighten the mood, but it just makes the dramatic moments more unexpected and fraught. Death is especially shocking and unexpected, as it comes in the form of instant incineration presented in a single panel. There’s no time for the reader or the characters to grieve. This is war and there’s no coming back from it. Death isn’t flirtatious, but final and unforgiving. Violence with human characters is often hard to believe as it’s not ‘realistic,’ but only an approximation. With animal characters, it seems easier to treat the approximation as real.
Wild’s End is War of the Worlds meets Redwall, with the sense of suspense and adventure present in a particularly dramatic Doctor Who episode. Abnett effortlessly balances the presence of multiple main characters while inviting character development through repeated flashbacks and carefully revealed details. The story is well-paced by Culbard’s art, closely following the action and punctuating it with individual panels of perfectly captured fear and dramatic tension. With highly expressive characters and an increasingly dramatic plot, Wild’s End is a science fiction tale that will find appeal for readers outside the bounds of the genre.
Do not expect a neat conclusion or a satisfying end in these volumes; the war is only just beginning. Reading Wild’s End will make you look twice at every lamppost and you may begin to question whether anything around you is truly harmless.
Librarians wishing to shelve this series should be aware of the following content warnings: bodies being burned alive, dismemberment, a striking but otherwise brief scene of bloody injury, drinking, smoking, and mild swearing.
by Dan Abnett
Art by I. N. J. Culbard
Vol. 1: First Light
Vol. 2: The Enemy Within