Severance, by Ling Ma

What would you do if it were the end of the world? How would you feel? Sad? Scared? I, for one, would be utterly panicked. In Ling Ma’s dystopian novel, Severance, it’s the end of the world, and surprisingly, her main character is not panicking.


The story is set in modern times with very modern references springing on the pages to remind you that society is now run by millenials. Our protagonist, Candace Chen, is one of them. Candace works the same boring 9 to 5 job making Gemstone Bibles, hangs out with her boyfriend watching movies in his basement, and in her spare time she works on her blog, NY Ghost. Her parents recently died and with her extended relatives all in China, she’s essentially alone.

Then, the epidemic of Shen Fever plagues the world, an illness that turns people into mindless drones. Candace amazingly survives the epidemic, and goes on to find another small group of survivors, led by Bob, a crazed former IT employee with a god-like complex.

While reading this book, I asked myself: why is this book called “Severance”? And I then realized it’s the perfect title. It’s about Candace’s separation from everything in her world. She separated from China when she immigrated to the US at age 6. She separated from her parents when they died, her boyfriend when he left New York, her job when it shut down, and society, when it eventually crumbled.

The story is dark, but also slightly satirical. Ma’s descriptions of the people who were affected by Shen Fever are creepy. It’s certainly not a way I’d like to go. If there’s a disease that is affecting millions of people, I wouldn’t want it to be Shen Fever… maybe something that would kill me a little quicker!

I read a lot of other reviews for “Severance” and saw that many people were unsatisfied with the ending. Without giving away anything, I can say that the ending was about what I would have expected. I knew that there couldn’t be a great conclusion. I mean… we’re talking about the end of the world here. How good of an ending could there be? Still, I wouldn’t be against a possible sequel to see if there’s maybe more to the story.

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