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The Cautious Traveller's Guide to the Wastelands

The Cautious Traveller's Guide to the Wastelands, June 2024
by Sarah Brooks

Flatiron Books
Featuring: Zhang Weiwei; Marya Petrovna; Henry Grey
336 pages
ISBN: 1250878616
EAN: 9781250878618
Kindle: B0C572JWQ4
Hardcover / e-Book
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"The Trans-Siberian Express of an alternative history"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Cautious Traveller's Guide to the Wastelands
Sarah Brooks

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted June 16, 2024

Mystery Historical | Fantasy | Science Fiction

This sweeping alternative history is a cross between a steampunk Victorian world and a mystery set on a luxury train journey. The Wastelands of Siberia lie between Beijing and Moscow. THE CAUTIOUS TRAVELLER’S GUIDE  TO THE WASTELANDS is a legendary guidebook that recommends staying on the train, absorbed in companionship, and looking out the window only briefly. Why, we are about to discover. The Great Trans-Siberian Express is the only train to run on this line, a purpose-built, armoured, insulated monster. Water and air are recirculated, luxury goods are shipped, and the crew are used to dealing with passengers who fall unexpectedly ill. Among the travelers is a naturalist - disgraced and hoping to recover his reputation - Henry Grey, heading to the Great Exhibition in Moscow. A Chinese daughter, Weiwei, was born on the train and has been here ever since, now a young woman with oil in her blood. A quiet young widow, Marya Petrovna, is trying to solve the mystery of her industrialist father’s death.  The other passengers are much the same mix as on the Orient Express,  wealthy English people and a frowning cleric, a happy young couple and  Mr Suzuki, the train's Cartographer, who records the ever-changing landscape. First and Third-class passengers never meet, and Third go without water when a problem arises. Then there’s Elena, a stowaway discovered by young Weiwei and kept secret in defiance of the rules.  There are ominous differences to this journey. One is the skulking presence of two black-clad representatives of the company, here to see that trade is continued at almost any cost. The other is the deranged nature of the very landscape, with mutated plants and animals, swarms of insects and murders of crows. Some consider that the hungry extractive industries disturbed a balance, and released a toxin from Lake Baikal or the mines. Studying in person is forbidden, and cities are walled and guarded.  THE CAUTIOUS TRAVELLER’S GUIDE TO THE WASTELANDS can be read as a fantasy,  or as a cautionary tale about despoiling the environment. Or it can be taken as a comment on some multinational firms, stifling dissent and truth, seeking the continuance of profit and putting a few individuals above the rest of the people. Sarah Brooks lives in England and works in the East Asian Studies department at the University of Leeds. Her gripping debut novel is quite a scary one but could be read by teens or adults with a sense of adventure.

Learn more about The Cautious Traveller's Guide to the Wastelands


It is said there is a price that every passenger must pay. A price beyond the cost of a ticket.

There is only one way to travel across the Wastelands: on the Trans-Siberian Express, a train as famous for its luxury as for its danger. The train is never short of passengers, eager to catch sight of Wastelands creatures more miraculous and terrifying than anything they could imagine. But on the train's last journey, something went horribly wrong, though no one seems to remember what exactly happened. Not even Zhang Weiwei, who has spent her life onboard and thought she knew all of the train’s secrets.

Now, the train is about to embark again, with a new set of passengers. Among them are Marya Petrovna, a grieving woman with a borrowed name; Henry Grey, a disgraced naturalist looking for redemption; and Elena, a beguiling stowaway with a powerful connection to the Wastelands itself. Weiwei knows she should report Elena, but she can’t help but be drawn to her. As the girls begin a forbidden friendship, there are warning signs that the rules of the Wastelands are changing and the train might once again be imperiled. Can the passengers trust each other, as the wildness outside threatens to consume them all?

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