Awaken to the Wilderness by Seth Mullins follows the band, Edge of the Known, on a grueling 180-day tour, which may be the undoing of band leader, Brandon, who has never been one to handle the trappings of success and fame very well. Here though, Brandon may be coming to terms with his life and art, realizing there’s always a wilderness, but you can always find meaning and contentment within the struggle.
Unlike the four earlier books in the series, Awaken loses a fair bit of its pretension and philosophizing, focusing more on the antics and experiences of a band on tour. One of the selling points of the Edge of the Known series is Brandon’s thoughtful pontificating about music and life, but it can also be also somewhat exhausting, as you occasionally want him to lighten up and enjoy himself. Here, he is.
This isn’t to say he isn’t questioning his place with the band, but there’s less of undercurrent of depression than with past books, as Brandon’s getting older and better able to be objective about his problems, rather than buried by them. His voice here is less melancholic and fraught, and so more believable as a central protagonist. He now seems more like someone who could front a rock band, which wasn’t always the case before.
The lofty prose in this installment is left to Brandon’s mentor, Saul, who is featured in short vignettes at the beginning of every chapter from his “A Human Metamorphosis.” There’s not so much a through-line with these excerpts and the rest of Brandon’s narrative, but more to earlier books in the series, and this could have been expanded more – as if Mullins wants to keep some of the existential longing without it overwhelming the story.
All this makes Awaken to the Wilderness a much easier read than earlier installments, though certainly not as challenging. It also feels like a kind of epilogue to the series – the sense that things are winding down, and Brandon’s finally coming to better terms with himself. Mullins could have done a better job of describing more about what has happened before for new readers – for instance, getting more into the experiences with Saul beyond the excerpts – but there is a lightness of touch here that makes Brandon even more appealing a protagonist than previous books.
For those who are already familiar with the Edge of the Known series, this book may seem more like a B-side or extra tracks to the rest of the series than something that builds a lot on the characters, or takes them in a new direction. Granted, it is a novella, but there is not a lot here that builds significantly on previous books. That said, if you’ve been along for the ride so far, this is a satisfying read that finds the band in a new place, subtle as that place may be.
Overall, Awaken to the Wilderness isn’t the most electric book in the series, as it’s telling a quieter story for the band. However, it’s as insightful as past novels, as the main focus isn’t just on questioning your world, but accepting what you have, which is a fitting trajectory for the series to take, and a message that will satisfy new readers, as well as fans of the series.
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