Friday, February 19, 2016

STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS


Review of STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS by ROBERT L. SLATER
(second in the DESERTED LANDS series)

If you haven’t read the first book in this series, know that this review contains spoilers.

Where ALL IS SILENCE was more action focused, this second installment focuses more on the characters and relatonships. That’s a plus for me, but as I read this I easily imagined others readers being bored. Most of the book is devoted to the complex relationships between the characters and their struggle to keep everything pleasant and content even in the aftermath of an apocalypse.

While I found it perhaps too dramatic that the first book ended with the revelation that Lizzie is pregnant from her drunken, ill-advised one night stand with Zach, I must say that Slater handles that development very well as the story continues. As a cliffhanger, it felt like hollow drama, but up closer we get a more sincere and emotionally affecting look at the ripple effect of this development. For those who don’t remember (or know), I’m going to summarize the complications a little: Zach has a girlfriend. He and Lizzie didn’t exactly cheat. The pandemic killed 98% of humanity and at the time Zach and Lizzie slept together, they thought his girlfriend hadn’t made the cut as a lucky survivor. For that matter, they both felt so relieved to learn they each had someone else they knew who was still alive. When Zach’s girlfriend Nev did reappear, she and Zach reunited without too much hesitation - but Lizzie’s unexpected baby by Zach now certainly complicates things.

In the first book, Lizzie was constantly on the move: searching for supplies and other survivors, running from threats, exploring for signs of hope and help. Now Lizzie’s staying put - or trying to - in the community they discovered at the end of ALL IS SILENCE. And she’s going stir crazy. To make matters worse, everyone has their own ideas about how the world should be run given the circumstances. Some want to mimic the structure from before the pandemic while others focus more on what’s needed now, such as resources, shelter, protection, and reproduction. Speaking of that last one, Lizzie fears her freedom might be forfeit in this new reincarnation of her world. Some even start talking about making it a law that any fertile woman must get pregnant. For the good of humanity. Let’s just say when things get tough, it’s scary what starts to seem necessary “for the good of humanity.”

The book really heats up at the end with more action and twists. While most of the novel focuses on our lead characters and their efforts to find how they fit into this modified version of their society, the end pulls back to look at the greater community. And, man, are people starting to panic. Resources and some technology seemed plentiful at first, despite the circumstances, but then things start really collapsing. We see fallout from all the people who are now gone, who once helped keep our world running a certain way. The end builds to a climax full of power plays and resource control. 

Apocalypse books have been done to death by now. Yet, with the good ones, I nevertheless find myself rooted in the story and eager to see how this particular disaster plays out. In this case, I’m impressed by how much thought has gone into what would work and what wouldn’t, not to mention what would work at first but start failing under the wrong conditions.

I mentioned typos in the ARC I received of the first book. While I noticed much fewer in this one, near the end the typos multiplied and became very distracting. Some scenes at the end also felt too chaotic and much less polished that the rest of the book.

Especially considering how I criticized the ending of the first book, I want to mention that I really liked the ending of STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS. It’s that nice blend of set-up for intriguing conflict without an unsatisfying cliffhanger. In particular, I really liked the last line. Perfect tone for the book and the series overall. I can’t wait to read the next one.

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