*lonely slow clapping* *clears throat awkwardly and pushes up glasses* ...anyway. On to the review.
The Goodreads blurb:
There is no cure for being stung.
Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered—her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right hand—a black oval with five marks on either side—that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. She’s right.
Those bearing the tattoo have turned into mindless, violent beasts that roam the streets and sewers, preying upon the unbranded while a select few live protected inside a fortress-like wall, their lives devoted to rebuilding society and killing all who bear the mark.
Now Fiona has awakened branded, alone—and on the wrong side of the wall.
I admit it, I peeked into the GoodReads reviews before starting to read. But the beginning was so deliciously, deliciously dark that I had to pick it up.
Girl wakes up to find that the world has gone to hell, she herself appears to have aged several years overnight, she has a weird tattoo on her hand, and then everyone she comes across starts hunting her. There are crazed monsters, sewer-dwelling children, and vague hints of some horrible disaster that left the entire world population decimated and the earth unlivable. Please, sign me up.
This is a pretty dark post-apocalyptic world. No Cozy Catastrophe here. At every step Fiona risks being dragged to a lab to be a human guinea pig, being killed by militia, or worse, getting captured by raiders. Some reviewers didn’t like the constant threat of rape and the fact that Fiona had to pretend to be a boy, but to be honest, I liked seeing that aspect addressed for once in a YA post-apocalyptic novel. There’s no more civilization, no more laws, and the constant threat of imminent death. Look at the current statistics for sexual assault. If tomorrow the world comes to an end, what do you think is going to happen—everyone’s suddenly going to turn noble, polite and civilized? Ha! In this case, it’s not misogynistic or rape culture—it’s realistic.
The novel really picks up in the second half, and there are some good action sequences. I did wish Fiona had perpetrated more of them, though. There’s a hint that she’s abnormally strong, possibly as a result of the (highlight to see spoiler) the bee flu vaccine that turned other kids into monsters. But then it’s kind of dropped and not really mentioned again. Even in the final showdown, she mostly cowers in the corner. I get it, she’s supposed to be the gentle, nonviolent one, in contrast to this crazy world she was thrust into. But still, I wanted to see her kick some butt. The one time she actually shoots someone, (spoiler) it’s an ally… her love interest, to boot.*sigh*
I’ll even let slide the infamous Pink Sundress Incident that so many reviewers seemed to be bothered by. Okay, so she puts on a pink sundress and twirls. Remember, she just slept for four years and still thinks she’s thirteen. Remember yourself at thirteen. You wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in that world. To me, this is pretty in-character. In fact I can’t wait for someone to write a kick-ass heroine who likes her frilly Lolita dresses and ties pink bows on her blood-stained battleaxe. Now that I could get behind.
The ending, IMHO, is a bit smudged. So much stuff happens all at once, characters we’ve never seen before appear, and suddenly there are all these reveals that weren’t even hinted at before. I was like, uh… am I still reading the same book? Not to mention that the action scenes in the end are a bit too blow-by-blow to work in the first person viewpoint. Especially the first person viewpoint of a terrified teenage girl whose love interest is about to die.
I did like that this novel is a real standalone (with sequel potential). It’s perfectly self-sufficient, even though it’s technically the first of a series.
Because of all these mixed feelings, I had a hard time rating this one. So I’ll settle for 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.