Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 10, 2020
**No spoilers in first half:
While this book has some Hunger Games/Divergent-type elements, the story carries itself in a way that still makes it unique. The pacing was a little slow for me in the beginning but picks up once the MC is selected for the testing (book blurb reveals this), and really takes off about 40% in. The characters are believable, with real flaws, concerns, hopes, etc. I like that the main character questions the way things are done, even if she isn’t in a position to change it right now. Knowing who you can and cannot trust is a major theme. The book doesn’t necessarily end on a typical cliffhanger, but it’s enough to leave readers needing to know what comes next. Overall, great read.
Language- minimal language. Some uses of a** and d***.
**mild spoilers, but no specifics**
there are questions of what happens to candidates who fail, talk of some candidates committing suicide including a current student who is found hanging in their room, talk of candidates using poison or other forms of sabotage to eliminate competition, a student impaled in the eye with a nail, mutated animals/people, bombs, shootings, stabbings, betrayals, cleaning infected wounds, PTSD type emotions, etc.
Drugs/Alcohol- The MC sips alcohol on one or two occasions, but not enough to be inebriated. Pain pills are consumed for injuries, injections/serums for truth telling and forgetting
Sex- no sex scenes. Any kissing scenes are non-graphic, mainly descriptions of butterflies and soft lips. A character receives a wound on their backside and teases the other character a couple times about having to take off their pants, but no description of the backside itself—just the wound.
As far as similarities to other popular books like H.G. And Divergent, the country is in disrepair trying to recover. Students are selected for testing where failing means death—but they don’t know this at the time. The MC receives some help and advice from an official who probably sticks his neck out more than he should. Candidates must survive various tests, including a 700 mile trek where anything goes (including killing) and there are boobe traps, mutations, etc.
Once I got into the book, I really liked the MC Cia. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and has good morals, even if she is a bit naïve in the beginning. She isn’t perfect and has to face unpleasant truths about herself and how far she will go to survive. There were some characters who I thought would play bigger roles, but they were offed fairly quickly. It did throw me off a little when practicality the first time Tomas is around, he’s holding her hand so much. Later we learn they danced last year and had potential sparks as Cia thinks back on it, but at that point in the book, I didn’t have enough information about his character to know that. If one of my guy friends started holding my hand after years of not doing so, I’d have been weirded out. Just sayin’.
I did like Tomas’ character though and that there was some strain in their relationship later in the book but not enough to derail everything—though I’m super curious to know what really happened when Cia left Will and Tomas alone. I’m also curious if Tomas was able to lie his way through the final interview. I was a little confused with the two pills he had stashed— he didn’t know Cia had the vial, so why didn’t he offer her one, even if she’d have to come clean about the man across the fence? Or if they were for the memory wipe, again, why didn’t he give her one? My curiosity is pulling me in different directions: did he want them both to forget? Or did he have the chance to take his and actually remembers everything and is pretending he doesn’t? Though that would make it much harder to be nicer to Will when you know he tried to kill you and your girlfriend, so I guess we’ll see in book two.
I was also a little bummed when her memory was actually wiped, but it made for a great way to set the tension high for the next book.