Half a century ago, plague decimated the world’s population. After a period of struggle, the survivors united to form the Community, a global government based on efficiency and mutual support. To ensure the plague doesn’t return, every citizen takes a pill daily to enhance resistance, and the government maintain watch to isolate anyone who does show possible symptoms. When an accident with her pill reveals to Jenna Nickleson that the medicine dulls her senses, she stops taking it. At first, everything seems fine, then the hallucinations start. Worried about what treatment might entail, she digs deeper; only to discover that nothing about the plague or the Community itself quite adds up.
This novel is, in both style and plot, targeted at the young adult market. However, this focus on accessible prose and teenage concerns is the primary – rather than sole – defining feature of the work, making this a work that will hold appeal to fans of adult science fiction too.
The balance of young adult tropes and general interest might most clearly be seen in the romantic elements. Several characters, including Jenna, feel the joyful uncertainty of youthful attraction, but these feelings do not take precedence over other areas of the plot. As such, readers who empathise with the travails of young love will still find much to tug their hearts; while those who prefer their dystopian fiction to focus on combating serious challenges will be spared the urge to lock any characters together in a room until they stop being stupid.
The Flints apply this same skilful balance to the tropes of superhero fiction: the characters have powers that give them notice advantages over normal humans, but they remain human-plus rather than dialling everything up into the wish-fulfilment and saving the world from the bullies of some superhero narratives.
This pseudo-low-fantasy approach to powers also assists in the suspension of disbelief. While they are outside the bounds of conventional science, the fumbling and grunginess fit well beside the themes of a more scientific dystopia permitting each to better imply the realism of the other.
Jenna is a well-written protagonist. Her background and qualities make it entirely plausible that she would be competent in many situations, and yet also provide gaps in her knowledge and fertile ground for making mistakes; as such, she is a sympathetic and active character, without becoming the Chosen Saviour figure that some YA heroes appear.
The supporting cast are similarly a credible mix of skill and blindness: what positive experience more adult characters have gained over the years is balanced by a greater experience of failure and deeper immersion into the prejudices of their group, making them equally as competent and prone to flawed action as the teenagers.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking a dystopian superhero narrative.
I received a free copy from the authors in exchange for a fair review.