Review of ALL IS SILENCE by ROB SLATER
(review based on an advance reading copy)
Post-apocalyptic worlds ravaged by disease have become commonplace in fiction these days, but vivid characters and a dose of realism can still make a dystopian novel unique. A kind of plague has near about cleansed the world of humans. Teenager Lizzie already had a pretty terrible life before she lost almost everyone she knows...not to mention everyone she loves. Only a social media connection with a long distance friend keeps her going until circumstances help her patchwork together a new family - not that she won’t have to work hard to keep this one alive and well.
I liked Lizzie from the start. She’s a believable narrator and a believable teenager with her own recognizable voice. I absolutely adored her when she starts going around and rescuing pets abandoned in locked houses after their owners died. What a fantastic way to contrast this story against All the Other Post-Apocalyptic Novels. So many similar storylines hinge on an every-man-for-himself attitude. Lizzie (and her friends) not only consider but actively look out for others and clearly value life of all forms.
Normally, setting falls low on what I care about in a book, but ALL IS SILENCE takes place in Bellingham, where I currently live. I adored seeing somewhere I know well depicted so accurately. I suspect this book will have particular appeal to people from Bellingham or northwest Washington in general.
This is a fairly gritty book, with lots of violence and swearing. For the most part, I mean that as observation more than either praise or criticism. However, I did occasionally find some violence more momentum-serving than something that feels organic.
There’s also a lot of romantic tension, sometimes a bit too much for my taste. Lizzie’s first saved from seclusion by her old friend Zach, a friend she knows had (and probably still has) a crush on her. She used to keep him (and most other guys) at a distance, but being the last guy around changes things. Then, as more characters arrive and join their group, additional crushes pop up, often overlapping. Sure, most of the characters are teenagers and many teenagers are very crush-fixated. (And, yes, that’s a polite euphemism for sex-fixated.) Regardless, I occasionally felt frustrated with their priorities since they have far more pressing issues than deciding which person they like more and finding out if those feelings are reciprocal.
There were some viewpoint issues that I found distracting. I’m describing this book like it’s Lizzie’s story, because that’s how the blurb on the back makes it sound and that’s the impression I maintained for the first five or so chapters. Then the point-of-view suddenly switches to Zach and from then on it’s a third person multiple viewpoint. Each chapter, or sometimes just scene, focuses on one character but it does switch between them. (Even then the perspective sometimes slips within a scene or chapter.) I could never quite shake my initial impression that this is Lizzie’s story, so I found the POV alternations jarring.
I planned to come down hard on the book’s grammar: mention that there are a lot of typos, probably at least one on every page. However, I knew I had an advance reading copy (in other words, not the finished book), so I looked into the matter and discovered that I basically received an advance advance reading copy, a very early edition that went through more than one additional revision before the final printing. Point is: I checked with someone I knew reading a final published version of the book and she assured me that it most definitely does not have a typo on every page; she hardly noticed any.
Grammar aside, I still felt that the novel might have benefited from another editor’s eye for larger plot points. Sometimes the story felt a little unfocused, which can be the downfall of writing more realistic fiction. Stories require clear conflicts, goals, and obstacles while real life definitely doesn’t line up neatly into that formula. ALL IS SILENCE certainly felt realistic, but I sometimes suspected a little more formula would actually help the story.
I’m uncertain whether this is the first book in a series. I would call the ending a pseudo-cliffhanger. It would be an odd, dramatic end point for a standalone novel, but certainly doesn’t require further books for resolution.