Review: 40 by Alan Heathcock

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From the award-winning author Alan Heathcock comes an American myth of the future: a vision of civil war, spectacle, and disaster of biblical proportions.

In a future America ravaged by natural disaster, pandemic, and political unrest, a fundamentalist faction emerges. As the Novae Terrae gain power, enticing civilians with bread and circuses, a civil war breaks out between its members and the US government.

Mazzy Goodwin, a young soldier, only wants to find her little sister, Ava Lynn. One day, she wakes in a bomb crater to find wings emerged from her back. Has she died? Been gifted wings by God? Undergone a military experiment?

The world sees a miracle. Mazzy is coaxed into seeing it as an opportunity: to become the angel-like figurehead of the revolution, in return for being reunited with her sister. Her journey leads her to New Los Angeles, where the Novae have set up the headquarters for their propaganda machine–right in the ruins of Hollywood. Aided by friends old and new, she must navigate a web of deceit while staying true to herself.

Told in sharp, haunting prose, as cinematic as it is precise, Alan Heathcock’s 40 is a dizzyingly fantastical novel about the dangers of blind faith, the temptation of spectacle, and the love of family. In a tale by turns mythic and tragic, one heroine must come to terms with the consequences of her decisions–and face the challenges of building a new world.


Alan Heathcock’s novel 40 is a novel with a huge, sweeping story. The novel starts with Mazzy, an American soldier who wakes up in a bomb crater with wings on her back. She is seen as an angel and becomes a symbol of the movement to Novae Terrae, a religious extremist group who is also working to destroy the government and become the New America. Mazzy gets deep into their organization for one simple reason, they have kidnapped her sister and she wants her back. 40 is filled with climate disaster and a dystopian setting which reminds me a great deal of many of Margaret Atwood’s novels, particularly The Heart Goes Last. Heathcock brings his own spin to this subgenre and it is definitely a great addition.

There are so many elements of 40 that I can focus on and explore. The biblical plot. The dystopian world. The fight between the government and the people. The way that Mazzy as a soldier reacts differently to scenarios because she has a history as a soldier. The way that sometimes Mazzy has to be trusting of whatever people are telling her because she has no other choice, even if the people that surround her have their own agendas and are not the most trustworthy individuals. There are so many different angles that can be discussed and explored. One of the most interesting things to me is not one of the main themes but part of the setup of Novae Terrae against the government. There are not many pages strictly dedicate to this, but it is the major motivation of the entire movement. When Jo Sam and the Novae were cutting off food supplies, using drones to fight the military, and eventually being too clever for the military. These moments make me think about how someone with a little bit of strategy and a great deal of support like Jo Sam can crumble an already weakened structure. This America is not built like the current America. This America has been ravaged by plagues, floods, earthquakes, and other climate change disasters that help the Novae Terrae take advantage. They step in and offer a utopian escape for many who have lost everything already. By being the problem for the government and then being the solution for the citizens, this group has been able to get an upper hand on the entire situation.

I enjoyed 40 and Alan Heathcock’s writing. This novel is fast paced and magnificent, and it can be in a class with all of the other great dystopian novels. It is much different than his story collection Volt, but it is a direction that I am ready to take with him.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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