Set 500 years in the future, a mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off most of the U.S. population. Those remaining turn to magic and sacrifice to cleanse the Earth.
Wonderblood is Julia Whicker's fascinating literary debut, set in a barren United States, an apocalyptic wasteland where warring factions compete for control of the land in strange and dangerous carnivals. A mad cow-like disease called "Bent Head" has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA's space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.
When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor's queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl's ascent. Politics and survival are at the centre of this ravishing novel.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.41(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.15(d)|
About the Author
JULIA WHICKER received her MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2006, where she won both the prestigious Capote Fellowship and the Teaching-Writing Fellowship. She’s had her poetry published in the Iowa Review, Word Riot, and The Millions, among others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A version of the first chapter of Wonderblood was published in the literary journal, Unstuck.
Read an Excerpt
When they rode, they took severed heads with them, in canvas sacks, in saddlebags, and set them out wherever they stopped, on rocks, or stuck them on pikes and tied the sticks with red streamers so the ribbon and the dead hair blew together with the wind. O, terrible Heads, gloomy-faced deaths — for the longest time, the girl remained afraid of them, even as she reached into her brother's canvas sack each night and withdrew one by its crackling hair, even as she gingerly poked it onto a pike and jabbed the pike in the earth outside her tent. She did not have her own magical head yet. But everyone said she should, so her brother made her one, cut it away from its body and powdered and magicked it so it would not go bad, so it would scowl always and forever in defense of her. He was twenty-nine, her brother. He could not read. He made Heads.
The Head had been a man named Cosmas, a doctor. Not a Walking Doctor, but a miracle healer, who'd once uncrushed an arm and made it work again by magic. He blew air into the arm like it needed breath and it plumped and warmed and worked again like new, but when the executioners saw that Cosmas was a miracle healer, they killed him and took his head. Her brother had fought three men for it — that was what he told her. "And now he's yours," he'd said, and presented to her a canvas sack, the kind he gave his customers, when he had customers. She was fourteen. Old enough to ride her own horse, to make her own camp — old enough for a Head. "Go on," he said. "Take it out." The skin, tornado-green, false-hard like a manta's eggsack; her fingers could punch through it if she pressed. She did not press. Eyeless, lashless Cosmas.
That night she put Cosmas in his sack and stuffed the sack into her saddlebag, but her brother banged into her tent with the Head, screaming, "Why isn't it out?" He was all flapping arms and dark hair, terrifying with his height and drunk eyes. She sat up in her blankets and he pulled her, shivering, outside, where he piked the Head and then made her do it as well, made her slide the sharp wooden pole into the hollowed-out neck, and it crunched and she cringed. "No crying," he said, when he saw her lip tremble.
"Right, you're not." He stepped back and admired the Head. "Looks good. Did you know I make the best Heads in this sorry carnival? Always have. That's cause I have pride in what I do."
She nodded. They were camped on a plain, a field wild with weeds and prairie grass. Maybe food had been grown in a great field like this, before the Disease. She wondered who had figured out the field was safe to walk upon, how long ago that had been. It was early May, and the sky was mesh, stippled with stars. She was cold, in her nightclothes without a coat. Her hair, so fine at the ends it nearly winnowed away to nothing, was long and light brown. She was skinny, dirty, and had not seen her own eyes in a pool of water for months. She hated it outside here, and trembled in the chill. Argento saw her shiver but didn't give her his cloak. He was mean like that. Along the outskirts of camp, fires glowed, ten, fifteen of them, all guarded by sentries — do not cross the line, now, ever, you are not allowed. You are a little girl. The men are gates you cannot pass through.
"Can I go to sleep now?" she asked.
"Fuck no." He yanked her toward his tent.
"No," she said, tried digging her bare heels into the ground.
"Not that," he said. "It's your birthday, right?"
"I think not anymore. I think it was yesterday. That's why you gave me the Head."
He shrugged. There was a little upside-down moon, hanging like a backflip in the corner of the sky. "I got something else for you." He marched her past his own five Heads and their streamers, maroon-colored, hazard-orange, caution-yellow, and into the warm mustiness of his tent. She opened her mouth, but closed it when he didn't bother fastening the tent flaps. The blood in her heart slowed. From beneath a pile of blankets he pulled a square thing wrapped in paper, tied with a streamer and decorated with colored chalk. "I drew on it, lucky sigils," he said. In the coldish light, the chalk whorls were phosphorescent like plankton at the seashore. She became aware of a curious feeling — not exactly sorrow but something near it, like the lonely cousin of sorrow, and she knew it was homesickness and she missed her old life and her mother. A lump rose in her throat as she sat on her brother's bedroll and chewed her thumbnail. In her lap, the present felt heavy and she did not want it. The chalk rubbed off on her fingers and sparkled and her brother squatted next to her and punched her gently in the shoulder. "Open it," he said.
She paused. "You shouldn't have got anything."
He laughed. To her it sounded crazy. "I just stole it. Out of some other carnival fuck's wagon. He was riding around a month ago, five horses pulling this gigantic wagon, it made me mad. Who needs five horses? I would've shot his horses, but they were good horses. White and brown."
"What did you do?" she whispered.
He actually smiled. "I let them go." He made a motion of running.
"That was a stupid thing to do."
Then he wasn't smiling. "Open."
When she'd untied the streamer and piled it like entrails in a puddle of moonlight, when she'd ripped the paper away, she saw he'd given her a book. A heavy, huge book. And did he know what book it was? No, not at all. He gazed at her face, watching for her reaction — she felt hot and cold, feverish; she knew what he was going to do afterward. "Thank you," she said slowly.
"Do you not like it? What's it about?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"What's it say?"
She squinted. Our True King, which meant little enough to the girl. The author was just as strange: An Executionatrix. She did not know what that word meant, but she saw within it another word she did know and fear. "It's about magic," she said.
"Well, every book is about magic, what's it about?"
She ran her hand over the fabric board-cover, curled her fingers around the fraying corners. A Head and a book. And outside an ocean of grass between her and the place she wanted to be, the place she remembered best, the cradle of the panhandle and its powderfine sand, its sky arcing overhead like green glass. Then tears came to her eyes but they were stupid — motion was life, even stupid men like her brother knew that. The word to name how she felt was nostalgia, a beautiful word that her mother had taught her was made of other words, foreign words, from the language of magicians: it meant return-pain. The girl felt sure her brother didn't know this, had never felt the feeling because he was too dumb, but she did, all the time, and suddenly her heart collapsed and she thought she couldn't bear it. It seemed her life flowed past her like a stream. All the time she fought this melancholic recognition of her female destiny, which was to be carried farther and farther away, forever.
She looked up at her brother. "It's about a king, I think."
"Is it about the Astronauts?"
"Haven't I taught you anything? They were the Silver Stars, riding up into heavens, the kings of all magic once and for all. What have you been learning in this carnival if not that?" He stared at her goggled-eyed. She only looked at him. Her brother venerated the Astronauts like all the Head Makers in his carnival. Argento said these men had left the earth and now waited beyond the world until the land could be healed. But how do you know? she'd asked. Well, he'd answered. Somewhere, someone has evidence.
The girl knew nothing about other carnivals except that there were many, and they justified making Heads in various ways, because the Primary Law was bloodshed. Her mother had said the carnivals were a thousand factions of one idiocy. There are innumerable ways to make a grave mistake, she'd said, and they are working on discovering all of them.
Her mother was named Gimbal. Two years before, when Gimbal delivered her to Argento in the deathscapes in the center of the continent, Argento had taken her straight into his tent and burned a unicursal hexagram into her thigh. The unicursal hexagram was a sigil with no beginning and no end: the symbol of their carnival, the Silver Star. It meant many things, Argento had said, especially the six great towers in Cape Canaveral where they returned every year to pay tribute to the king. She hadn't known then this mutilation wasn't allowed — only those condemned to become Heads were supposed to bear the hexagram. So now she hid the scar, because it shouldn't be there, and also she knew Argento had done it because he was stupid and crazy and didn't believe he had to follow rules.
She hated her mother for giving her to him.
Often, when she had nothing to do and she was alone in her tent, she traced her hand over the mark, down the lines that fell inward forever, and thought that if there was magic in this sigil, it was in the spaces bounded by lines, in the blankness between divisions, in the emptiness that held apart borders of the world. She understood this with some core intuition. Magic, like nostalgia, was like a lie; empty and full all at once.
When Gimbal abandoned her to Argento, the girl had cried. They had come to him from their peaceful southern settlement by the seaside, all the way across the continent, through the vast level plains that had once been Arkansas and Oklahoma. Those were the old names, her mother had murmured, though boundaries did not matter now because the land was useless. Sometimes the girl still thought her mother knew everything. Her mother could read the markings that other Walking Doctors left along the saferoads. A language of symbols that meant Sleep Here, Stay Away, Keep Ten Feet Back. Her mother taught her a few. She wished she had paid better attention. She often dreamt now of running away.
To get to Argento in his carnival of the Silver Star, she and her mother had walked across land gray as a storm-sky, through hail the size of fists. They stayed on the saferoads. They rode an old white mule decorated with a faceplate made from a piece of ancient plastic, they carried an old Head in a saddlebag — so they looked like believers on a pilgrimage. Her mother detested the ruse, but said they would be even stupider not to carry the Head. Anyone who stopped them would wonder what business two women had riding alone in the deathscapes. They could fabricate some relic, her mother said — even a shard of glass would do, for the magicians in the carnivals were notorious idiots who could be bespelled by a dung beetle. But having a Head with them would mark them as magicians themselves, and no one would question them much.
They'd traveled for months, from April to July, together on that mule, sometimes one of them walking, one riding, and they passed through fragrant mud and grasses heaving with summer and all the beauty and terror of the middle of the continent. They rode toward the heart of the Disease, where it had begun all those hundreds of years ago. That was what her mother had told her, with a sad laugh. You best hope we don't encounter a Kansas Cow, she muttered. I for one wouldn't know how to kill it. If they can even be killed by anything other than the Disease, and believe me I have no idea. How do you kill what's already dead?
Are the Kansas Cows real? the girl had asked, her eyes on the farthest horizon, a purple bank of clouds that flattened at its top into a deep blue dusk. She still remembered that day, the sky. She remembered so many skies. She had imagined a black Kansas Cow stumbling across the prairie on spider legs, eyes red and unseeing. She had heard of Kansas Cows, of course — everyone had. But she had never thought of them because she had never before left Florida.
Her mother, walking beside her then, shot her a look. How should I know? People say they're real. People also join stupid carnivals and go around cutting off heads. You shouldn't believe everything you hear, because even if it's true, it could be wrong. Gimbal's hair was long and dirty and she wore a plain dress with no buttons, for buttons were wasteful. She did not look like what she was, which was a dissident. She performed the illegal magic of surgery, during which she physically altered the human body in order to affect its form and function. A Walking Doctor, who went out on the saferoads to heal the sick and mend the wounded.
Gimbal's occupation had been cause for strife as long as the girl could remember. Once, her mother received a written command from the Hierophant himself in Cape Canaveral to cease and desist her "damnable surgeries and return to the proven methods of magic, astrologics, and bloodshed." He'd cited the carnivals as beacons of virtue. He'd invoked the doctrine of Wonderblood, the rinsing of the world in blood and pain for one Eon. "It is our collective debt," the letter said. "It is the Primary Law." If she did not follow it she would be executed. Her mother had torn up the letter, spat on it, and ground it into the dirt. How's that for magic? She had no time for the Cape's hysterics. There were people who could be healed, and she and her husband would heal them.
The reason she was abandoning the girl was: her newest husband was only twenty-five and a surgeon like herself, a true believer, and he had aspirations. They would leave the panhandle eventually, to go about as Walking Doctors on a wider circuit, just as her own parents and grandparents had done. It was true there was no cure for the Disease, but there were many people who would still pay for the old medicine. That is, if they believed it was tempered with a touch of modern theory. So she and her husband ground bird bones and collected thimblefuls of fresh morning dew. But those flourishes were for show; their real magic was that they'd memorized thousands of pages of anatomy diagrams, that they knew the names and formulas for ancient medicines that worked and tried to resynthesize them using molds and magnetic salt. On the saferoads, among the people, they used the incantation "primum non nocere," since it meant do no harm in the language of their books, and if people thought those were the magic words of a particular sect, so much the better. Though her mother hated to indulge idiots, she did it for what she called the greater good.
The girl had felt safe there in the settlement with Gimbal. Her two brothers, much older, had left years before, Argento off to the carnivals. The other one, William, had become a thief and was run out of the settlement. That was what Gimbal said, anyway. The girl didn't remember either of them. As she grew up, she even imagined she would become a Walking Doctor like her mother. But a time came when Gimbal explained that the larger world needed her more than any one child could. The girl was twelve then, almost a woman. Her mother had been a mother herself at fifteen, and that was that, her childhood was over. She'd said, The time is coming for you to take care of others. That is the highest calling for any human being.
But then the girl had seen her mother looking at her new husband, at his muscles like round machine parts under his skin and his smile like a fish hook, and then back to the girl, and the girl understood she was jealous. They began the long journey to find Argento's carnival in the deathscapes. Argento, her oldest brother, was also the most foolish and had turned religious for reasons unknown to any of them. He'd left for the carnivals before the girl was even born. She didn't remember him. Argento was his nom de guerre. She didn't know his real name, hadn't asked, didn't care. Her mother said the name she'd given him at birth was wasted on a lunatic.
But they went to him because he would be the only one stupid enough to take her. Just a pair of arms. The girl also saw that Gimbal hated Argento, or maybe she hated all religious men, and she meant the girl as a punishment for Argento's idiocy. The Astronauts, hexagrams, Heads as charms against the Disease — it was all nonsense; weakness and misplaced piety, her mother said. But he was her brother all the same, and if he wouldn't protect her, no one would. That, her mother told her in a sharpened voice, was life, that was living, get used to it.
When they'd finally arrived in the carnival country, in its cosmic wideness across which the girl sometimes thought she could see the curve of the world, and when her mother rode away home on her white mule, when she vanished across the grasses, when Argento used a hot iron to sizzle that six-pointed star on her upper thigh, where he licked her, when her mother was gone and the girl had nothing and no one to believe in, she traced the star and wished, hoped, wondered. The pain of it all — Wonderblood — made the unreal real and so sometimes magic didn't seem so much like a lie after all, and that confused her.
Excerpted from "Wonderblood"
Copyright © 2018 Julia Whicker.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The Uncrusher,
Chapter 2. Ears,
Chapter 3. The Executionatrix,
Chapter 4. The Comet,
Chapter 5. The Pardoness,
Chapter 6. The Angels,
Chapter 7. The Third Queen of Cape Canaveral,
Chapter 8. The Rider,
Chapter 9. Marvel and the Astronomer,
Chapter 10. The Carnival,
Chapter 11. Queen Alyson,
Chapter 12. The Wedding,
Chapter 13. Tellochvovin,
Chapter 14. The Unicursal Hexagram,
Chapter 15. Friendship,
Chapter 16. A Headache,
Chapter 17. Huldah,
Chapter 18. The Game,
Chapter 19. The Thunder, Perfect Mind,
Chapter 20. The Watchtower of the Universe,
Chapter 21. The Pardon,
Chapter 22. Faith,
Chapter 23. Escape,
Chapter 24. The Law of Mercy,
Chapter 25. Orchid's Loss,
Chapter 26. The Breach,
Chapter 27. Fortune,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wonderblood (Hardcover) by Julia Whicker Wonderblood is an involved book that looks at the true nature of humanity. How can mankind survive their biases drives. A post apocalypse story when mankind has become so defiant, violent and corrupted that the only solution is to leave the planet to those who can not be saved. The World is engulfed in a plague that makes all living things more violent. The only cure is more violence. The book draws the tension to the breaking point. The characters are caught between the violence they live in and the dream that they are able to reconnect to those who have left the Earth on their promised return. Will their belief be rewarded is the cliffhanger that Julia Whicker leaves the readers with or have we just destroyed ourselves. What is the breaking point of humanity, is it within our own nature to overcome the impossible?
The setting is five hundred years post “Bent Head” disease and society has fallen into warring factions. Although not everybody, but a huge majority of the people left are worshipers of everything NASA with a special focus on the space shuttles. This is no starry-eyed dystopian society with morally grey inhabitants. This is kill or be killed, seriously messed up factions who have descended into utter madness. No one is enlightened or civilized, this society is bottom of the barrel type individuals and is absolutely straight out of my newest nightmares. I loved it and hated it! Loved it because as messed up as it is I think that it is a valid scenario of a post-apocalyptic situation. Hated it because it scared me to consider it and nothing about this scenario gave me any sense of peace. There is no vigilante hero to get behind in Wonderblood. The main character that the story incorporates is Aurora but her point of view is not continuous. The story is told from alternating point of views and at the start of each chapter you have to take a minute to figure out whose story is being told because it is not clearly noted. That may be off-putting to some readers. The characters themselves do not really develop, they are pretty static in terms of growth, but that works for this story because it is not really about the characters. The story is really about the warring factions within a society and the pinnacle of their frenzied worship on a religion based on schematics and such from a defunct space program. What needed to be improved? There were no in-depth details about what exactly Bent Head disease was. I also wished for more information about the initial collapse of society. How did it start, who was affected first? How was it that intellectuals did not survive to be a faction in this society? There was no way highly educated individuals could ever function as low as the characters in this setting did, there is just no way, because this society was a very low functioning society that had very primitive brain thinking. There were also parts of the story that started to go somewhere and then were just dropped off. Might not matter to some but I noticed and was left wondering. Overall, I appreciated the uniqueness that is Wonderblood. The idea of a civilization that worships space, space shuttles, and NASA was very cool to me. Also, to be in a society where doctors, medicine, and surgical advances were seen as abhorrent was a complete mindblower! I would have liked to have explored that concept some more. Now comes the WARNING. If you can’t stomach decapitations, mutilations, and depravity, this is not a story for you. Rape is another subject that you would have to deal with. There is nothing graphically depicted, but it is pretty clear about what has taken place. There is also the fact that the main character is a child and is taken as bride by a much older man. The ending is abrupt, so there may be more to come in this world, and this is not a world that will appeal to everyone. I say if you are a fan of post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction that you give this story a try. It is world set in a heighten state of unrest and has all the elements that would appeal to readers of that genre. This review is based on a complimentary book I received from NetGalley. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.
Wonderblood by Julia Whicker is a dystopian YA novel that blends a somewhat surreal storytelling aspect with a twisted, post apocalyptic world. The strange and magic are venerated and space shuttles and astronauts of old tales are revered. Aurora (so named later by Mr. Capulatio) was dumped by her mother to live with her brother in a roving carnival band where magic, paranoia, mysticism and strength rule. When her brother's band is demolished by Mr. Capulatio and Aurora is taken to be his prisoner, teenage bride, and queen to be, Aurora's life takes another turn. Will it be better or worse? I thought the idea was creative, the veneration of NASA, astronauts, and the space shuttles is interesting, though after 500 years which space shuttles have been destroyed seems to have been forgotten. The environment is brutal, bloody and bleak. It felt like the characters were mostly travelling around and experiencing things for the most part, rather than finding, exploring and developing, but as a whole this was an interesting world with remnants of the familiar. Overall, if you are looking for a story with a interesting future myth-political aspect and the grotesque normalized, then Wonderblood by Julia Whicker provides an intriguing journey. (I voluntarily reviewed an ARC of this book I received for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my open and honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.)
I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic books. I enjoy reading about how a civilization would adjust if something awful happened. So, when I saw Wonderblood, I was excited. I was excited because the author had this civilization worshipping NASA and the space shuttles. It was something different from the usual post-apocalyptic stories. Then I started reading the book and became disappointed. I actually struggled to finish reading it. Which is something that I rarely do. If the author had stuck with only the girl’s storyline, I would have liked this book more. But the constant switching between characters became confusing after a while. There were several times where I would start a chapter, get a few paragraphs in and have to reread because I thought it was another character. That alone made me want to DNF it. I can’t stand it when chapters aren’t labeled when the author switches characters POV. Makes it very difficult to keep the rhythm of the story going if I have to keep going back in a chapter to reread it. I felt that there were several unresolved storylines. Such as the plotline with the Pardoness. She asked Marvel to get a surgeon to cut off her legs, which were deformed. Marvel (the Hierophant) went through all the trouble tracking Tygo (the prisoner) down and taking him from John (the Chief Orbital Doctor). Then nothing ever happened. Instead, all 3 men did something else and she was never mentioned again. The other storylines were not as major but still annoying. I dislike it when I am reading a book and a storyline is dropped. I didn’t feel a connection to the characters at all. All the characters felt flat. They were not 3 dimensional at all. Not rounded out. Put it this way, when I read a book, I like to imagine the characters as flesh and blood people. I couldn’t even with these characters. They were more paper doll-like in my mind. The end of Wonderblood confused me. It was written as a cliffhanger but there is no mention of a 2nd book. All the storylines are left up in the air. There is no resolution of anything. Now, there were some parts of the book I liked. I thought the plotline was original. I liked that the author used NASA, the space shuttles and Cape Canaveral as major plot points. The fact that these people worshipped the shuttles and NASA fascinated me. What also fascinated me was that this civilization kept heads as charms. Yes, human heads. They were supposed to protect and guide them in that horrible world. The last thing that fascinated me, and I wished more time had been spent explaining it, was that medicine and surgery were forbidden. If you were found practicing, you were put to death. I would give Wonderblood an Adult rating. There are sexual situations and disturbing scenes of pedophilia. There are some very graphic scenes of violence. I would not reread this book. I also would not recommend to family and friends. While the plotline was good and had promise, I felt that the cons outweighed the pros. The cons are: flat characters, dropped storylines, unresolved storylines and an ending that is confusing. The pros: Interesting storyline