The Bystander

Fiction - Dystopia
589 Pages
Reviewed on 03/22/2020
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

The Bystander is a work of dystopian and conceptual fiction that was penned for adult readers by author Harry Wolden. Set in a speculative near-future where Time itself becomes the new enemy and cause for warfare, we see what happens to the human race when Time stops for them and the world around them. As devastation looms, new sects and groups emerge and tribal warfare based on creed and color reigns once more. A small group of villagers yearns for the old ways and normal life and a land that was once called Canada offers hope of a fresh start, if only they can make it there.

Author Harry Wolden has created a fascinating concept in this relatively short and highly enjoyable read. The concept of stopping time is one which we often see in far-off realms of fantasy fiction, and to see it brought into a modern and contemporary story with real racial, cultural and social implications is a fresh viewpoint that’s very interesting to read. Combing an adventure journey novel with conceptual speculative fiction elements, Wolden keeps us grounded in reality by using realistically portrayed characters, and figures both good and bad whose behavior we can already relate to through how we see people react to war and crisis in the media today. What results is a superb and intelligent read that is sure to capture modern drama and dystopian fans alike, and I’d highly recommend The Bystander to any reader looking to break out of their usual box.

Liz Konkel

The Bystander by Harry Wolden is a thrilling read with action-packed moments and a thought-provoking journey that finds a group of survivors banding together to get back to the lives they once had. Humanity has a lot at stake. The world has been replaced by one that has suffered under an apocalypse, which gives way to an impending Civil War. The world is now overrun with the worst traits of humanity with racism and hatred pushing a group of survivors to make a drastic decision about their future. The story is an intriguing take on the end of the world with concepts that will make you think deeper and with a poignant message about humanity that will have you rooting for these characters.

The state of the world is a chilling part of their present which is what drives each of these characters forward through tragedy, loss, and struggles. A few of the characters set the tone of the story which sees them in their normal lives before the story moves into their apocalyptic present. The story begins with a poignant introduction of a few of the primary characters with each of them reflecting on what used to be. Each of their lives is important to how the characters react to the collapse of the world and how they continue forward after their lives are shattered around them.

The Bystander by Harry Wolden weaves into the perspectives of other characters with each having a key purpose in their goal of getting back a remnant of their lives before. The story has moments of loss and survival seen through the various characters in an action-packed journey that Harry Wolden delivers with plenty of surprises. The Bystander is a thrilling read from beginning to end that tells a story of survival through various perspectives with each of their journeys connecting them through a similar longing for the life they had before.

Grant Leishman

The Bystander by Harry Wolden takes us into a post-apocalyptic world where the battle for survival is paramount and the thin veneer of civilization is long gone. When time literally stops, a new normal emerges. Survivors of the War of The Beginning are forced into small communities or villages who must do whatever it takes to stay alive. Outside the villages is danger, gangs of marauding bandits, intent on cannibalism to survive and, perhaps worst of all, the new religion/sect/cult that has risen from the ashes, the Religion of Time. Amidst this dystopian landscape people are still forming personal relationships, still falling in love and still striving to maintain their humanity but it is difficult. The greatest hope for these people is to reach the “promised land,” a land where rumor has it life is still “normal”. The land they seek is Canada and their journey there will be fraught with danger, death, and fear that will test everyone to their maximum.

The Bystander is an unusual dystopian story because it tells the story of this shattered world from a number of different perspectives, and gives us, as readers, a clear insight into the minds of all the participants in this battle for survival. I was impressed that Harry Wolden was able to inject some real humanity and compassion into even those who were the supposed “baddies”. As a read, the story flowed well and the author’s style was descriptive and at times poetic, although the changes in perspective can be a trifle confusing at times. With an ensemble cast of characters as complex as in this story, I felt the author did a good job of exploring each main character fully and I suspect readers will be able to find something to identify and empathize with in all of them. If dystopia and exploring human reactions to coping with a dystopian world is your thing, you will definitely get a lot from this novel.

Vincent Dublado

Once in a while, a dystopian novel comes along to rattle our senses and make us ponder on how our present actions that bring tensions and crises could lead to a bleak tomorrow. One such novel is The Bystander by Harry Wolden. The story takes place in the aftermath of World War III, also known as the War of the Beginning. The world is reborn into a landscape that has forgotten its recollection of social justice—a dog eat dog world where Social Darwinism has become the norm. The novel builds its tension slowly, opening with a domestic scene of a typical family preoccupied with the ordinariness of their day. The narrative leads us to details of their immediate vicinity, suggesting that all is not well. We are introduced to a string of characters in their own struggle to overcome, if not survive, a hostile society.

While Harry Wolden writes that this is a trip of evolution from chapter one to the end, the plot’s context is a new Dark Age where racism and oppression pervade. The details of the environment help to establish the authenticity of human behavior. It serves as a visible reality in which character motives are played out with justifiable causes. The Bystander creates a large, inescapable world that triggers readers’ senses for re-examination. There is no forced imagery within the context of what constitutes this tale as dystopian, as the characters blend well into the environment. A weirdly absorbing and disturbing tale that finds relevance in the reflection of our present, this book is a great read for anyone who is open to the possibility that this story can happen.

Jamie Michele

The Bystander by Harry Wolden is a post-apocalyptic dystopian suspense novel that dives into a tale of a new world order and all the terror that accompanies it. The laws have been reconstructed and no person is given the choice on what they are and who they apply to. War and famine and apartheid have destroyed what was once a level playing field and created monsters of men and chaos out of order. As villages collectively rebuild on the backs of the oppressed and the rubble of war, there are those who still turn their faces in the direction of a beacon of hope. Canada, it is reported, has the freedom and safety of the old ways. However, even if it is true, which no one can be certain of, the journey may be more dangerous than where they are now.

The Bystander is an incredibly interesting piece of fiction and Harry Wolden does an excellent job of crafting a world that can only be imagined through the images he is able to depict. The landscape is as gritty as the people who live in it and is almost immediately immersive. The writing format is a little difficult to get into at first as the narrative is written as an omniscient stream of consciousness that jolts between past and present tense, but as disjointed as this sometimes feels, the story is incredible. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with a character named Magnus Trembley, who embodies all the reckless abandon required in the world as it is but still reveals tiny slivers of humanity from a time before. Overall, this is an excellent story with solid world building and really engaging characters.