Does this post mean it’s time to kill my blog? No! This is a review of a new book by debut author Nadine Brandes. A Dystopian book with a Christian outlook. What would you do if you knew you only had one more day? (Points for anyone who gets the reference)
Anyway, I’m reviewing a new dystopian novel by Nadine Brandes. I’d almost classify it as YA, but there’s some pretty gruesome parts to the book. That said, I’ve read some pretty gruesome things in other books clearly labeled YA, so who’s to say? I wouldn’t read this to my five year old kid, certainly, but wouldn’t be uncomfortable letting a late-middle school or high school age child read the book. So let’s talk about the book and the author a little.
Who is Nadine Brandes?
Nadine Brandes is a debut author from the Midwest. I actually came across her when I wanted to ask some questions about her publisher, Enclave Press, as I’ve been toying with writing a Science Fiction novel with a religious angle to it. She was extremely nice and helpful, so I kept in touch. Since then I’ve read her blog over at http://nadinebrandes.com/ and found her articles to be well written, helpful and with a positive outlook that (the following is in no way approved by her before posting this) makes her worthy of emulating as both an author and a Christian. She also does freelance editing on the side.
A Time To Die. The title is quite ominous to live up to. It promises at the very least, a thriller, since we’re immediately tuned into the danger of death. The next thing it makes me think of is the song by the Byrds in the 60s, which is a song based off of the Biblical Ecclesiastes. Well chosen title, so how does it fare inside?
Summary: The book follows a high school aged girl named Parvin, who grows up in a dystopian world approximately 150 years from now, where the east and western halves of America are divided by a great wall. Each person in the eastern society is given a clock that tells them the exact moment they’re going to die, and it’s implied that if the person doesn’t naturally die at that point, the government tracks people down and makes certain it happens. A scary dystopian world to say the least. On the other side of the wall is the wild west, which no one crosses and is believed to be a vast wasteland. People who lose or destroy their clocks, or don’t have one for whatever reason, are exiled there, presumably to die a miserable death.
Parvin was a triplet that they didn’t realize was there at birth. One of her siblings died in childbirth, the other is another character in the book. Because of the strange birth, one of the two surviving children doesn’t naturally have a clock. It’s unclear which one is which, driving the story as the government finds out that one of them doesn’t have a clock. Exile and adventure are soon to follow. The characters examine their lives and faiths in exceedingly dangerous trials that ring with danger the whole way through. I won’t spoil the book there as it isn’t out yet.
Below is how I thought the book was in various aspects of the book. I try to give balanced reviews to help people decide whether they do want to read, because gushing about something or ripping something apart doesn’t really tell you anything other than personal feelings (which both, in my opinion, means that the book evoked a heavy emotional response in the reviewer, which means the book succeeded as art and is probably worth reading). So I try to give the positives and negatives to show where a certain reader might be interested in the book.
Characters: Dynamic and interesting. There wasn’t anyone I thought felt stilted or unrealistic. Some characters surprised me at different points, they all had strengths and weaknesses. Nadine knows what she’s doing here. There were a few points where I thought some of Parvin’s internal monologue got a little preachy to remind us this is a Christian book, but even most of that felt natural and within character. It is in first person so really everything is seen through her lens. I didn’t care a ton about the male interest in the story as he felt a lot like similar brooding helpful types I see in this genre a lot, but there was nothing that threw me out of the story about him. The character Skelly Chase was the most interesting, which is all I can say about him — but I’d read a whole book about him! A solid effort for an established author, let alone for a debut novel.
Pacing: Like a lot of the modern Dystopian YA, this book goes at a break neck pace and is hard to put down at any point. Chapters end in cliffhangers to set up the next parts, there’s always danger looming. Around the half to two-thirds mark it feels like it lingers a bit long but it picks right back up again before you know it. The book does suffer a bit from “First Book In Series-itis” where it ends at a point that I don’t feel like the main story line really resolved, though it is mitigated with enough of an ending to certain plots that I didn’t walk away completely unsatisfied. This is also a trend for the genre, so if you like that in the genre, you’ll probably really enjoy this book.
World Building: I was completely immersed. Fun along the way. I wasn’t quite convinced about some aspects of the West/East society and the wall because of how big America’s geography is and certain aspects of the West that I thought were different than I was led to believe at the beginning, but I didn’t dwell on it too much because everything else was so fabulous. Cool concepts technology, cool lack of technology where proper, and interesting structures. Overall, very well done again.
Storyline/Plot: I was hooked from the first page of this story. And that’s a rarity for me. Usually I’m the type that hates the book for the first 50 pages or so while I get acclimated to the world and characters. Not the case here. Threw me right into conflict which kept me excited the whole way through. I cared, I came, I went and said “oh no, is this really over?”
Overall: The first thing I thought when I heard the concept of knowing when you’re going to die, with government overseers ensuring that happens was “Oh, no! Nadine’s going to get sued by Harlan Ellison!” (In reference to his short story, “Repent, Harlequinn! Said The Ticktockman) However, beyond the fact that knowing one’s time of death is involved (which is hardly a Harlan original concept, and more in Nadine’s case a play off of the Biblical “No one knows the day or the hour…”)
Really, the most apt comparison I can give to the book is The Hunger Games. And not because this book follows a Battle Royale combat plot, it doesn’t. It tracks with that type of book as it’s 1. Dystopian and semi-YA with some gruesome parts and 2. With the pacing, first-person view and similar writing style. This book differs because it’s more about finding your purpose as a human being through faith rather than an allegory for the horrors of war as the Hunger Games series is. It’s got much more of a Christian outlook — so if you’re a Christian and a fan of Dystopian YA, this book has your name on it. If you like the genre but are not religious, I think the book still holds up but some parts of it will come off as a little preachy to you. If you dislike Dystopian YA… well, you shouldn’t have gotten this far in the review!
I enjoyed the book thoroughly, will read the second one when it comes out. It’s probably one of my 5 favorite books I’ve read this year so far, so do check it out. A Time To Die by Nadine Brandes will be released on Tuesday, September 23rd and is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.