Book Review: The Drift by C.J. Tudor
By John ValeriFebruary 16, 2023
C.J. Tudor may well be on her way to becoming this generation’s Stephen King. Since making her debut with 2018’s The Chalk Man—which won the Barry Award, the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, and the Strand Critics Award for Best Debut Novel—she has earned a legion of fans who will snap up her books by virtue of the name on the cover. Tudor’s suspense novels have always had an element of horror, often straddling the line between this world and the otherworldly—a style notably evidenced in last year’s stop-gap short story collection, A Sliver of Darkness. Now, she makes her much anticipated return to full-length form with The Drift.
In the not-too-distant future, a deadly virus has ravaged the world’s population, mutating faster than modern medicine can manage. Many have perished. Some have lived. And a few have become…the Whistlers. (But I won’t spoil that for you). What fate will befall Hannah, Meg, and Carter—the three leads in Tudor’s dystopian drama. Each finds her-or-himself cast in a precarious situation where survival—and not just their own—depends on sacrifice, strength, and the secrets they carry. Salvation may lie at The Retreat—a mountainside refuge for the chosen few. But it could also prove to be the death of them (assuming the outsiders arrive).
Hannah is a young boarding school evacuee whose bus has gone off the road and into a snowbank; of the dozen students onboard, approximately half are dead—and the other half are well on their way. Meanwhile, former homicide cop Meg finds herself stranded with a group of strangers (and one deceased acquaintance) high above the ground, where their cable car has come to a precarious halt—and with no hint of help. And then there’s Carter, who lives at The Retreat—where dwindling supplies, increasing power outages, and tenuous alliances threaten to vanquish the few who remain. Each is looking for redemption—though some have confused it for revenge.
The narrative alternates between the three POV characters and their settings; each chapter ends on a cliffhanger that ensures high tension as the various threads play out. Tudor, then, has served up three locked room mysteries of sorts (or escape rooms, even). Of course, not everybody will get out alive. Between the elements, the infighting, and the virus itself, survival isn’t always possible, or necessarily even preferable to the alternative(s). As expected, the storylines do converge—but in brilliantly unexpected ways. Much like what we’ve witnessed in the age of COVID, sickness (and the fear, paranoia, and uncertainty that come with it) has caused people to drift in a multitude of ways. Will they realign themselves or simply disappear like snow after the fall?
C.J. Tudor has continued to impress with her imaginative abilities, and The Drift stands as her most ambitious book yet. While a departure from her earlier novels—and a fitting follow-up to A Sliver of Darkness’s eclectic offerings—it maintains the heart, horror, and humanity that have always formed their core. Once again, she has captured “the same but different” to masterful, and masterfully manipulated, effect. If her collective works can be called “The House of Tudor,” then The Drift is the piece de resistance—though her byline is selling point enough.
If you have read works of this author, you cannot take your eyes off the fascinating details. Besides, you can also play Drift Hunters after reading the book and want to relax to sleep better,