My rating: 5 of 5 stars * * * * *
“Without my embarrassment, my sadness, my fear, what did I have left? I closed my eyes. What if the things I was trying to let go of were things I was supposed to carry? What if they were all I had?”
* * *
I read this for Ace Book Club a long while back, and it was a book of many firsts for me. First book by Rachel Sharp (but not last! Phaethon review coming!), first ABC book, first post-apocalyptic survival story in a long time, and first book with a canonically stated (with the actual word!) asexual, aromantic, and touch-averse major character. The fact that Chrome right now is saying “aromantic” is not a word is a small proof of a large fact: we need more.
I’m not going to hit much on the survivalist/genre/plot-progression, because I don’t think I’m familiar enough with wilderness survival stories to have much of an opinion. But the characters themselves, and their journeys of transformation and self-discovery… Those I grok’d most heartily.
Colt’s apprehension and precarious sense of direction (in a literal and metaphorical sense) is palpable. As is Damien’s rising panic and edge-inching, culminating in a wonderfully raw and cathartic moment – the kind of breakdown you need before you can even think about healing. Janie’s contrasting conviction and sense of self – the world might be ending but she is a survivor, she is determined, and she is asexual, dammit. Becca’s trauma, reluctance to trust, and fragile-at-first, stronger-by-steps healing and self-realization.
(Also, Mab is a badass, unbroken and charmingly rough-by-necessity delight. If I knew nothing about the rest of the series, I’d read for her. I might have a small crush. Just a little.)
Everyone might have started at different places and learn at different rates/methods, but all the main characters are on the same ‘road,’ as they travel, and discover themselves.
A Word and A Bullet isn’t just a book about holding on. To survival, to a hard-won place in a hostile, topsy-turvy world, to one another, to one’s sense of self and belonging.
It’s about letting go. Releasing one life and moving into the next like the first step down a dark and unfamiliar road. It’s about taking stock of your life and yourself, realizing what memories, self-concepts, scars, are weighing you down, on a journey where you can only keep what you hold, and any extra baggage can make the difference between life and death. It’s about holding onto the essentials, what you simply cannot live without. And in a harsh world like this, you learn that you can live without much more than you thought.
It’s about persevering even when the world is ending. Sometimes a world, a chapter in your life has to end, for you to find who you really are. The old world is gone. The old you. Remember the past, learn from it, you need not repeat it – but you need not relive it either.
Know you will survive letting go, and you are not alone. There are other survivors on the same journey. Nothing is too heavy if you share the load.
Find what no longer serves you. What weighs you down. What keeps you from embracing yourself and your new life.
Then find what you cannot live without. Or who. If you find you have nothing left, it just means you have less to carry. It means you step into the world of change unbound. It means you write the next word on a clean slate. Take the next step into a transformed-but-not-destroyed life. It’s different now. So are you.
Throw the rest into the fire, and let it keep you warm.