Blake’s fascinating, idiosyncratic second novel (after 2019’s Namaah) constructs a haunting postapocalyptic world with which a withdrawn woman must finally come to terms when someone starts killing local families. In 2032, trees began producing more pollen than human bodies could handle, killing billions of people. Ten years later, the survivors of what’s called the Turning carefully navigate a world where it’s not safe to be outside for more than seconds at a time. Among them is Izabel, who meanders through her days feeling vaguely dissatisfied with life with her husband, Kaito, and four-year-old daughter, Cami. When Cami develops inexplicable sleep issues around the same time a serial killer starts slashing the plastic sheeting enclosing nearby homes and letting in the toxic air, Izabel ends up in the best position to solve the mystery, following clues in the phrases Cami mutters in her sleep. The novel’s tone is restrained, sometimes verging on mannered, which belies the gradual but effective accumulation of emotions and images. The skillful blend of postapocalyptic science fiction, supernatural murder mystery, and domestic drama is unexpected and entirely engrossing. (Feb.)
Suspenseful and startling.”—The Nerd Daily “A cli-fi novel for our times . . . Blake explores profound questions of human nature and free will. . . [and] invites a profound consideration of the decisions we’re making in this very moment.”—Oprah Daily “Blake’s originality is on full display in this post-climate-apocalypse, murder mystery, science fiction, thriller extravaganza.”—Ms. Magazine “[An] engrossing and suspenseful tale that simultaneously delivers a lyrical homage to motherhood and a piercing vision of the fragility of humankind’s relationship with the natural world.”—Booklist “[An] eerie dystopian tale… Novelist and poet Sarah Blake wows with her blend of chilling suspense and deadpan humor . . . Clean Air is a fast-moving thriller that makes it hard to catch your breath.”—Apple Books, Best of the Month: February “[A] suspenseful ecological science fiction novel.”—Tor.com “A post-post climate apocalypse story combining speculative fiction and a poet’s sensibilities.” —Den of Geek "Clean Air features an encouraging vision of a future where humanity agrees to work together . . . It offers hope for a future where intimacy and family still matter, even under the direst circumstances.”—The Ancillary Review of Books "The skillful blend of postapocalyptic science fiction, supernatural murder mystery, and domestic drama is unexpected and entirely engrossing.”—Publishers Weekly “Interesting . . . A quick read with a timely premise.”—Kirkus Reviews “Clean Air is an amazing blend of page-turning mystery, important commentary about environmental destruction, and poignant portraiture of maternal love. Sarah Blake is a poet, and it shows in the way she takes her brilliant premise to another level with her economical prose, distilled insights, and wonderfully disturbing imagery.”—Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek “Clean Air is the work of a rare and casually powerful literary imagination. It is set in a future that feels all too real, a post-apocalyptic novel that is both a family story and a thriller. It's a remarkable book, a compelling read that haunts with its astuteness.”—Joan Silber, author of Improvement "Sarah Blake's novel Clean Air provides the suspense of a first-rate thriller with nuanced characters whose world is shifting due to climate catastrophes. I turned the pages fast, wanting to know what happens and caring about the characters equally. The writing sings us into a future filled with chaos but also hope and beauty."—Toni Jensen, author of Carry “Sarah Blake's Clean Air is both a scintillating hunt for a serial killer and a pollen-flecked meditation on what we owe each other and the planet. I loved every page and didn't want it to end.” —Katie Williams, author of Tell the Machine Goodnight “Sarah Blake has travelled into the future to create a precise portrait of motherhood in this current moment, complete with one of the most fully realized children I have ever met on the page. Told with a poet's economy and logic, Clean Air is a clear-eyed look at the terror and tenderness of motherhood, and a parent's ordinary devotion in an extraordinary world. Be warned: you might not be able to put this book down until you reach its final page (and you'll enjoy every minute of it).”—Shruti Swamy, author of A House Is a Body “Clean Air is a moving, suspenseful page-turner set in an eerily perfect post-apocalyptic bubble of climate demise. It's a beautiful and harrowing story of motherhood and the fight for a hopeful future for the ones we love. Sarah Blake's vivid and sharp observations of family, grief, and a world on the brink of collapse are so compelling that I eagerly raced to the last page. I couldn't put it down.” —Crissy Van Meter, author of Creatures
In her second novel, after the award-winning Naamah, Blake combines dystopia, supernatural, suspense, and a serial killer to create an unusual listen that includes the COVID pandemic as a historical event. It's been a decade since The Turning, when all the trees on Earth over-pollinated and polluted the air. Millions died. Izabel and her husband Kaito survive by living in a dome in Philadelphia with their young daughter, Cami, masking every time they leave the house. When a serial killer begins slashing domes to kill families, Izabel becomes obsessed with keeping hers safe, even while her daughter talks in her sleep and mysteriously reveals the killer's secrets. Argentine narrator Sol Madariaga shines when Izabel sings to her daughter in Spanish, and although some phrases are rushed and a few words are mispronounced, there are no major audio or production errors. Listeners will want to find out who the killer is, even if the plot is wrapped up a bit too nicely in the end. VERDICT A quick listen offering a unique twist on apocalyptic climate fiction.—Sarah Hill
First in the "Kithamar" trilogy, set in an ancient city with a blood-bathed history, Nebula-nominated, Hugo-winning Abraham's Age of Ash tells the story of a thief named Alys whose hunt for her brother's murderer reveals secrets that could bring down rulers (40,000-copy first printing). With Clean Air, award-winning author Blake introduces a postapocalyptic world where trees are so overgrown that pollen chokes the world and people must live in domes that someone is viciously slashing. From Hugo nominee and internationally best-selling Dutch author Heuvelt, sends Nick Grevers and climbing partner Augustin up a remote mountain in the Swiss Alps called the Maudit ("cursed" in French), whose eerie stillness presages the horror to come (150,000-copy first printing). In The Thousand Eyes, a follow-up to Larkwood's LJ-starred debut, The Unspoken Name, Csorwe has defied the wizard she served and disappeared into the unknown to lead a quiet life with her mage-girlfriend—but not for long; bits and pieces of an ancient goddess are arising in the worlds of the Echo Maze, and Csorwe must join with old companions to resist (150,000-copy first printing). Owen, The Boy with the Bird in His Chest in Lund's debut, is hidden away by his mother for years to protect him but decides to risk an outing in the woods that turns catastrophic (60,000-copy first printing). Successful YA author Ross's first adult fantasy, A River Enchanted takes place on an island as magical as Prospero's, where spirits responding only to a bard's music thrive—and the trouble they are stirring up forces just-returned musician Jack and his nemesis, heiress Adaira, to cooperate (50,000-copy first printing).
It's 2042. Only a tiny sliver of the world's population is left—and there's a serial killer on the loose.
"Izabel had thought no one would kill another person again. Not after what they'd all been through." Ten years earlier, in an event now known as The Turning, the trees had released so much pollen into the air that simply breathing killed millions, including almost everyone over 60 and under 10. Izabel was working in a hospital morgue at the time, which is where she met her husband, Kaito. Now they have a 4-year-old daughter, Cami, and the family lives in a plastic dome in a town built on a slab and where transportation is provided by self-driving cars and a spiritual center offers weddings and funerals as well as counseling and tarot readings. The latter two play a major role in the plot, as do Japanese mysticism, messages from the dead, and possession by spirits. Izabel medicates her longing for the lost world by turning on reruns of America's Got Talent and The Backyardigans and pulling up news stories from 2017, when the planet seemed to be headed toward so many different disasters—but the revenge of the trees? No one saw that coming. Now some depraved person is killing whole families by slitting the walls of their plastic domes, and Izabel becomes so obsessed with the murders that she ends up in the middle of the police investigation, headed by a dry, bossy female federal agent named Inspector Paz. The strongest aspect of poet Blake's second novel, after Naamah (2019), is her worldbuilding, which is full of interesting details, from giant blueberries to privacy pods, but the writing is utilitarian, the character development, minimal, and the plot relies too heavily on mystical interventions.
A quick read with a timely premise.