Top critical review
Bags of Potential.
on 10 January 2016
I toyed between three and four stars for this book, so my rating is really 3.5 stars. There was so much I enjoyed, but sadly some of this was still dampened by a few things that I didn't like so much. Here's what I thought:
Set in the not too distant future, we are plunged into the world of refrigerators which remind you when they're getting empty, music systems that sense who is in the room and remember their favourite records, a breakthrough with the AIDS vaccine and exciting new techologies. Kids like Peyton, our leading lady, get the AIDS vaccine when they come of age, but Peyton hasn't done so yet. Which is lucky, because adults are dropping like flies, suffering from a terrible flu-like disease, and now some of the kids at Peytons school are too. The kids who have had the vaccine anyway! Very soon on all hell breaks lose and the world is full of zombies, immunes or people just lucky they've not become a meal yet.
There are two main characters within this novel. The first is Peyton, who has been living underground in a bunker with her mother since the outbreak. Her father, who seemed to know the apocalyse was on its way, performed some cybernetic modifications on Peyton to allow her to survive once the bunker is opened after four years. I loved this. The modifications made to her were pretty minor, just occular implants and razors under her nails, and were pretty underdeveloped in terms of an explanation. However, I thought it was a cool twist to the genre and tried to overlook the lack of information. Peyton, much like her enhancements, is pretty underdeveloped as a character too and sometimes I found her character a little two dimensional but she wasn't annoying so again this was easy to overlook.
The second main character is Chris, or Chase as he is otherwise known, who Peyton abandoned on the day of the outbreak in favour for the bunker. Chase is obviously no longer her biggest fan. Whilst surviving in a Walmart with his brother and a bunch of little kids, Chase had thought Peyton had probably died. Until the bunker opened and he found her wandering around in the open about to become zombie food. Chase is a more interesting character than Peyton, despite his overwhelming love of Peyton, and I enjoyed seeing his character develop and change as he met certain challenges. In particular, I was impressed with the way this author explored addiction in such a bleak environment.
I really enjoyed the way this book is structured. The narrative changes between past and present, which is a fantastic way of piecing together what happened before the outbreak with what's happening afterwards. It's a good way of developing the story and I enjoyed trying to tie the two stories together because they effectively ran as two separate stories for quite some time. Additionally the narrative is split again between Peyton and Chris/Chase. This was great, although not always well delineated, but fortunately they had quite distinct voices so it was easy to tell who was speaking.
I really was hooked throughout, but I can't say that this book was perfect. I expected an amateur feel to this book because I, I am ashamed to admit, judged this book by it's lousy cover. This didn't feel amateur at all though, the issue was that there was just not enough thought in too many places. Why does nobody struggle with loss particularly in this book? These people are losing their closest family members in such an awful way, and yet they don't appear to be all that bothered - particularly Peyton who is completely unaffected by any death to be honest.
I started to get annoyed by the lack of explanations after a while, in fact a lot of what could have been decent plot twists, were just given away within a few chapters. I became frustrated by things just having no effect on the storyline at all, like a gladiator-type event pegging zombies against humans, which is swiftly brushed under the carpet when it was an idea with so much promise. I also think that Mancusi had so many other good ideas, particularly the cybernetics and technology, which she could have really ran with but instead they were just hinted at which was a missed opportunity in my eyes.
I really don't think I can even comment on the ending, which was wrapped up in a whole two pages of complete rubbish that was not explained at all. I'm not even joking, we're genuinely just told the eventual outcome of the whole disease outbreak with no details whatsoever. Really disappointing, it felt so rushed when, again, the author could have done lots of different exciting twists on an ending of this nature.
Despite the fairly poor character development and the underwhelming plot twists, I did like this book. I thought the beginnning was so gripping and the structure kept me reading even when I had my doubts; I do recommend this book and will be reading the sequel. However, having read a lot of similar books in this genre, some of which have become my all time favourites (Ann Aguirre's Enclave, for example), it's hard to fall in love with a mediocre version of them. Although I would give this a read if you like fast paced plots, perhaps it's not for you if you like surprises and a more detailed narrative; I really hope the author plays on some of her more exciting ideas with the sequel.