Well, I have finally finished the second paperback of Y: The Last Man, and there is certainly a lot to catch up on since we left our dear Yorick and his companions with several paths ahead of themselves at the end of Unmanned. We begin book two still in Boston, with Yorick bartering for passage on a freight train, though the group’s destination is still not immediately clear to the reader. After some “resourcefulness,” all are safely on board, and quickly discover that they will be sharing the space with a fully-stocked pigpen. And yes, don’t worry, fabulous puns ensue.
We soon learn that the chosen destination is Dr. Mann’s lab in California, which Yorick is none too happy about. Agent 355 seems concerned, too, and apparently rightfully so: after a short interlude (in which we find out that Yorick’s sister Hero has gone a bit off the rails [ha, my own pun!]), a pair of armed and apparently racist thieves show up. Caught off guard, Yorick is not wearing his disguise, and the thieves immediately discover that at least one male has survived the plague. The thought seems to barely register, however, before Yorick takes action despite (yet again) Agent 355’s warnings to stay back. He tackles one of the thieves, but it doesn’t go well: the thief quickly judo-rolls and throws both Yorick and shoulder-perched Ampersand through the open boxcar door and into the night. Worse yet, Agent 355 bashes her head when she dives after him.
Yorick is discovered, unconscious, on the side of the train tracks and given safe haven by Sonia, a woman from nearby Marrisville. After waking up, the two instantly bond, and Yorick finds himself describing his relationship with Beth as “complicated.” It is a surprising turn of events, given his fixation with traveling to Australia thus far. Still, he quickly recognizes the need to find Agent 355 and Dr. Mann, and prepares to leave. Before he is able to depart, however, he runs into the other sixty-six women of the town, who represent yet another important group of women that we have not yet seen in Vaughan’s post-apocalyptic universe: a no nonsense faction that rationally tends to their own basic needs. Sure, in the first book, Vaughan introduced us to the congresswomen searching for the next President, but here in book two he also acknowledges the distinct likelihood that a group of individuals would be able to overcome their differences in order to react to the distinct and immediate needs of a day-to-day order. It is an impressive feat considering we find out that the group is made up of convicts who escaped from a nearby prison, but it is not unrealistic.
Despite this positive note, a rather unfortunate development comes to pass, as Yorick’s love life becomes exponentially more “complicated.” First, he kisses Sonia in the woods, and second, in a concussed haze, Agent 355 weakly mutters, “I want you…Yorick.” While I was angry that Vaughan has contradicted his main character’s previous statements, and I personally hate Yorick’s decision, I am simultaneously impressed by the statement Vaughan is making: Yorick is the last man on Earth, but that doesn’t make him the smartest or best one. A similar idea applies to Agent 355, as I see it. She is one of the smartest women on Earth, but that doesn’t mean she can’t (mistakenly?) fall for the imperfect eponymous character.
Speaking of heroes (More puns! I regret nothing!), Yorick’s sister has now discovered that her brother is the man they have been following, and thanks to a tip from the woman who got him and the group onto the train at the beginning of book two, she knows just where he is. You might not consider a sister finding her long lost brother a bad thing, but unfortunately for Yorick, Hero is just as complicated as the rest of the cast. Brainwashed, she and the rest of the Daughters of the Amazon show up just as Yorick is having self-righteously berating the residents of Marrisville for their colorful past. Luckily, they are not as petty, and refuse to allow the Daughters to take the last man in the world into custody. Again, however, Yorick puts himself in extreme danger by turning himself over to them (Agent 355 is a bit too unconscious to disagree with his decision this time), and he is rewarded with a gun to his head, held by the leader of the Daughters, Victoria. In a tremendous show of violence, Sonia steps outside and deftly launches an ax into Victoria’s head, only to receive an arrow from Hero’s bow in her chest. After Sonia dies in his arms, it is Yorick’s turn to be angry, and he stops just short of executing his sister, demanding instead that the residents of Marrisville lock up the Daughters in the old prison.
The real fireworks come just before the end of the book, however. Hero reveals that it wasn’t the Daughters of the Amazon that attacked Dr. Mann’s lab. Cut to the Daughters of Israel, stealing a Blackhawk helicopter and receiving intel from a shadowed individual in a Secret Service office: “The boy is in a small town in northern Ohio called Marrisville.” We further learn that Hero is already on her way to escaping from prison, and, not that it’s a big deal or anything, there are at least two men other than Yorick alive. They’re just on the International Space Station!
Overall, I was less fond of the second book than the first. While I understand the literary need for it, after being presented with a fantastic and imaginative post-apocalyptic, nearly all-female future in the first book, the complications presented in the second made it more difficult to love it quite as wholeheartedly. Still, in my opinion, the work is probably quite a realistic view of such a future, and I would be doing a disservice to our readers to say that you shouldn’t pick up a copy.