March 4, 2013

Review: Once

Once by Anna Carey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'm listing this book as "read," but the fact of the matter is I didn't finish it. I made it about two-thirds of the way through and realized that I really don't like the main character, don't believe in the world, and couldn't care less what happens to these people.

This is a young adult dystopia, specifically of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, which in this case is the aftermath of a plague that wipes out ninety-some percent of the American (and, by implication, the world's) population.

To pull off this type of book successfully, you have to sit down and work out just how your post-apocalyptic society will develop. It takes a great deal of worldbuilding and asking hard questions. For example, will the survivors try to maintain their country's form of government? Will they merely scavenge from the ashes of the old world, or will they temporarily revert to an agricultural society, and once they're growing enough food to keep themselves alive, will they then try to rebuild an industrial civilization? How will the survivors divide their labor, and who will decide? How will questions of gender and race be solved? How will conflicts be handled? These and a thousand more questions need to be worked out, and thoughtful solutions proposed, for your dystopia to succeed. (See as examples: Veronica Roth's Divergent, Ann Aguirre's Enclave, and, of course, the mother of them all, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.)

Unfortunately, Anna Carey did almost none of this, and the few answers she came up with are the most superficial possible.

Without spoiling too much, let's just say her post-plague world is unbelievable, to say the least. It's only twelve years (as near as I could figure) after the plague, and some joker has already set himself up as King? In the United States, where there would still be some people living who remember the Constitution, and approximately 300 million firearms lying around to support it? Where there would still be survivors of the military, who would certainly support the chain of command? I daresay there would even be a few feminists remaining who also know how to operate said firearms, and who would most strenuously object to consigning women to chattel, reproductive slavery.

The characters are also as dull as dishwater. Neither the heroine Eve nor her boyfriend Caleb inspire much sympathy, and aren't particularly likable. At one point, Eve veers perilously close to being Too Stupid To Live when she walks into what is obviously a trap, and succeeds in getting herself and her best friend captured, and the best friend's dog killed. (Actually, I reacted more to that dog's death than I did the entire rest of the book, or at least the portion I read. This is not a good sign, if your reader likes a dog better than your protagonist.) She is then whisked off to a rebuilt Las Vegas, where her boyfriend follows and they hook up again. Quite literally, which for me was the last straw: she has sex with Caleb but neither mentions or is concerned with the possibility of getting pregnant, when being reduced to a babymaking machine, strapped to a bed, is the reason she ran away in the first place.

Good Lord. Talk about cognitive dissonance and betraying the entire premise of your story, such as it is.

I don't know why some people (at least from the reviews I saw on Amazon) are raving about this. Eve is not a likable character. This world does not make sense, and this is not a good story.

I need a good dystopia, dammit. Anybody got any suggestions?

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