My uncle recommended this post-apocalyptic title to me, and while it has weaknesses, I can see what attracted him to the story. This is very much a tale about taking ownership of your life rather than just maintaining the patterns you were trained in. Oddly, those patterns make up some of the weaknesses. Though Avery is trained in survival, she has blind spots that either came from the author or her father. In one case, modern sensibility interferes with survival, and in another, her ignorance where I’d expected basic knowledge stood out.
The book starts slowly because Avery is the first person point of view, and she doesn’t recognize the personhood of her sister, June. We learn how they got to this moment and what’s going on through Avery ruminating on what had happened and how June is her first priority.
Don’t get the impression it is all navel gazing though. There is a lot of danger, struggle, and fear as well as truly terrible things happening in flashback and in the present. This is a time of monsters, of bare survival against all odds, and a planet in turmoil because the different sapient species choose competition over cooperation.
I enjoyed seeing Avery grow up, not so much in age as the book occurs in a matter of days, but in recognizing her sister’s strengths, in taking responsibility for the safety of strangers, and in opening her worldview. Her sudden onset of puberty feels a little overdone and littered with the idea of base drives (envy and sexual rivals). I believe these drives are at least in part a construct of our culture as they are not constant among human cultures nor do they appear in every animal. However, those changes also bring more voices into the story and allow for an interaction previously lacking.
There is a moment (not describing because it’s a spoiler) that leads me to suspect the world she knows is not quite accurate. Then, she destroys that moment so I don’t know if it’s a sign of what’s to come or a fluke. I certainly hope for the first, as complex narratives are my favorite, especially where cultures clash. This is a tight narrative, and there’s a lot Avery doesn’t know, so the hints could be wishful thinking or elements the series can build on. That those possibilities exist offers the chance for many interesting opportunities going forward.
The world, its people, and the story setup are intriguing enough for me to read the second book, though I haven’t yet done so. The first, this one, is largely a journey from stasis to action, with strong character development along the way. It’ll be interesting to see their next step, and if it offers surprises. The relationships and character growth saved the book when the events were somewhat predictable to me. This is especially true of the two biggest moments, one of which stripped away a dynamic I thought would be fascinating.
The first book ends with a commitment to action as opposed to just survival. With so many ways it can go from this point, I look forward to seeing what choices these characters make in their future.