This young adult, dystopian novel is the start of a trilogy, but stands alone perfectly well. With plenty of directions the story can go, appreciative readers will likely read on with the series without a cliffhanger necessary. As a work of science fiction, many questions are left to be answered, but the seeds are there.
The story [taking place across just a couple days] opens with a young woman waking bound in a dark coffin. While the sensory deprivation doesn’t last far beyond breaking free, the information void lingers throughout the novel as Em is ever on the verge of remembering things from before the coffin, but never able to illuminate these memories. As she is joined by other kids is the same informational void the mystery grows.
The only early clues to what is going on are the names etched into the coffins, the thick dust atop everything, a vast hallway littered with bones and the symbols inscribed on their foreheads. It’s not a lot to go on. One more thing, every child thinks it’s their twelfth birthday. But their bodies say otherwise . . .
Promotional comparisons are made to The Hunger Games–but this lacks the institutionalized sado-tyranny, Divergence–but really only in the forehead symbols, The Maze Runner–but pleasantly this is not an inane game, and Lord of the Flies–we have a winner. I’d throw in The City of Ember, for being a book about exploration and trying to figure out what the real circumstances are through the veneer of inevitable mythos. Like Lord of the Flies, kids need to organize themselves–yes, but moreso it shows how, with a lack of knowledge and understanding, human nature is such that it fills in the gaps with explanations that veer toward the supernatural, religious, magical, and monstrous. This is the heart of the story. This is what makes it worth the read in that it does this so well.
The sub-plot about leadership is a huge distraction and verges on tedious. It could be a better theme if Em could actually formulate internal arguments toward her instinctive feelings toward people. But this does not happen, and it’s a huge miss in this novel. If a reader doesn’t like this novel, here’s why.
One minor point that I appreciated was the diversity of the children. Race and gender were non-issues and at times undefined. What makes this story different from LotF, is that the kids lack cultural knowledge, too. They are blank slates at the start (and thus the mythologizing for answers). Human tendency is to organize, and race and gender stay out of it for these kids without our social baggage. They look to the forehead symbols, but even that is questionably arbitrary.
I received my ARC through Netgalley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]