Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
After a virus causes a worldwide collapse, some of the survivors form a traveling symphony and theater troupe. Moving between small settlements in middle-America, these musicians and actors make their living bringing some semblance of culture to a dystopian world because as their motto states “Survival is Insufficient.” Weaving the pre and post-virus stories of several different characters together, Ms. Mandel creates an unnerving and fraught world. Usually, Dori and I have similar thoughts on the books we read, but Station Eleven was an anomaly. It left Dori a little uneasy and frustrated but she admitted it was compelling. She found the plot and world lacking in details and also wanted a clearer philosophy tying the book together whereas I found the open-ended tone to be refreshing. I liked the character development and how the seemingly different characters’ stories connected. Both of us did agree that Ms. Mandel’s writing had a darkly lyrical quality which made for some beautiful prose. I recommend Station Eleven for its haunting yet hopeful look a post-apocalyptic culture.
The Camellia Resistance by A.R. Williams
In a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is obsessed with hygiene and STDs, Ministry of Health statistician, Willow Carlyle, has just ruined her entire life through a few reckless nights of passion. The premise of “The Camellia Resistance,” the first book in the Camellias Trilogy, was interesting enough, but the execution was not up to par. I feel just “meh” about this one. Some of the characters were sympathetic and the writing was decent. However, some of the scenes were unnecessarily salacious and the idea that herpes gave some of the characters superpowers was strange. I doubt that I will continue reading this trilogy, but other people seem to enjoy it. Ultimately, it was just not my cup of tea.
*Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this novel with a request for an honest review.*
California: A Novel by Edan Lepucki
This novel is trying to be a hyper-realistic version of future, dystopian America. The rich can afford to live relatively normally but most everything is too expensive for the 99%. In addition, climate change created super storms that killed a lot of people and left the landscape barren in many places. The main characters, Cal and Frida, have moved from Los Angeles out to the middle of nowhere to try to live. They eventually find a community called The Land where the people can offer security but also perhaps dangers of their own. While decently written from a diction and grammar point-of-view, both Dori and I feel just “meh” about this book. It was not very well plotted. The story never really progressed. For awhile I was intrigued by the mystery and danger surrounding The Land but the secrets and “climax” of the story were a letdown. Also, the book really didn’t have an ending. It just stopped. Dori summed it up nicely saying that Ms. Lepucki’s debut novel “suffers from too many ideas and not enough clarity of purpose.” Overall, “California” is a melodramatic, run-of-the-mill, post-apocalyptic story which became increasingly frustrating through its many mini-build ups that resulted in no consequences or plot progression.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Thomas wakes up in a metal box without any memories of his past and dozens of eyes peering down at him from above. He has been sent to The Glade, a large piece of ground at the center of an ever-changing maze. The other boys, Gladers, have been trying to solve The Maze for two years but no one has found a way out and no one caught in The Maze after dark has survived the night. In a novel that is part “Lord of the Flies,” part “Hunger Games,” and part “Ender’s Game,” there is an abundance of danger and action but little explanation of why I should care. Most of the boys, with the exception of the protagonist, felt interchangeable. When you have characters that do not have any backstories there needs to be some other mechanism or plot point that draws me into the lives of at least a few of them. Mr. Dashner has definitely created a page-turner. I was anxious to find out if the boys could find a way out of The Maze but all the life-threatening action fell a little flat because I wasn’t invested enough to care if or when someone died.
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
A steampunk, fantasy novel set in feudal Japan? Yes, please. However, “Stormdancer” is so much more than that. There are demons, griffins and a protagonist who can hear animals’ thoughts. It also has all the makings of a good dystopian novel: a tyrannical leader, religious zealots, haves and have nots and the seeds of rebellion. I particularly came to like the main character, Yukiko. Although there is a a love triangle that I did not feel was entirely necessary, Yukiko is a good example of a strong heroine who confronts demons both inwardly and outwardly. Mr. Kristoff’s writing has not-so-subtle environmentalist and political overtones but he makes his points without arrogance and without distracting from the storyline. His writing also contains very vivid imagery which helps convey the rich detail of his world and deepens the emotional impact of the story. If you are going to read only one Japanese steampunk novel, make sure it’s this one!