All good things must come to an end, and that time has finally come for Margaret Atwood’s dystopian trilogy about a small group of humans who have outlasted a devastating super plague and now battle to survive in this hostile new world.
MaddAddam picks up immediately where The Year of the Flood dramatically ended, throwing readers into the deep end along with Toby, who featured prominently in the previous novel and upon whom the narrative now rests. The world Toby and her compatriots navigate is not unlike our 21st century one, but with all its vices taken to the extreme; full of pun-laced jargon and deadly hybrids, danger lurks around every corner and the mantra “kill or be killed” rules the day. At this point in the series, Atwood clearly assumes that readers of MaddAddam have strapped in for the two previous rides—this is a novel where everyone, even the reader, is expected to pull her own weight or risk being left for dead.
As in previous novels, the story blends past and present: Toby carries the present-day story as the remaining members of the pacifist faction God’s Gardeners evade a band of ruthless killers and search for their lost leader, Adam One, while forming some unlikely alliances along the way. The bulk of the narrative’s meat, however, lies with the mysterious Zeb, who has danced about the periphery of the previous novels and now finally opens up about his past and shares the origin story of the Gardeners and its activist counterpoint, MaddAddam, as well as the deadly plague that clobbered humanity. There is enough backstory here to allow new readers to fill in the blanks, but clearly this novel will be most rewarding for readers who are already invested in these characters’ plight and are looking for the final pieces of the puzzle regarding why this world so dramatically crumbled and what the future holds.
Within the pages of speculative fiction, the rarest thing to find is a happy ending, and MaddAddam is one of the finest examples of the genre, which doesn’t bode well for its protagonists. But while much must be sacrificed and not every character makes it safely to the end, Atwood is not so ruthless as to extinguish all glimmers of hope for the future. MaddAddam is as much a beginning as it is an ending. Told with Atwood’s characteristic incisive wit and insight, it is a fitting and wholly satisfying conclusion to what has proven to be a truly epic series.