Review: Fragments

Fragments
Title: Fragments
Author: Dan Wells
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Science Fiction, Hard
Pages: 564
Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Review Copy: Received as a birthday gift
Availability: February 26, 2013 (on shelves now!)

Summary: Kira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what’s left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira’s journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn’t even know existed.

The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity’s time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means—and even more important, a reason—for our survival. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Second books in a trilogy are always complicated. They’re rarely satisfactory on their own since their primary purpose seems to be setting everything up for the final book. Even if you do get answers to questions, you’re immediately peppered with more questions.

My feelings about Fragments are equally complicated. On the one hand, yes, Kira finds out who and what she is in this book and what the Trust is—that is awesome. (And this is the point where I highly recommend that you re-read Partials before you launch into Fragments. The science-y plotlines will be much easier to follow if you do.) On the other hand, very little else in this book gets resolved. All the other movements, particularly with the other POVs, seem specifically designed to position all the pieces for book three. As a reader, that’s frustrating, but it also has become standard for the trilogy format. (I had a higher standard for Wells as Mr. Monster was an amazing and satisfying second book, and I’d hoped that magic would extend to Fragments.)

One of the greatest weaknesses of this book is the other points of view. From a story standpoint, these POVs are crucial as they develop plotlines that Kira can’t (since she spends the entirety of the book away from Long Island). However, these other POVs weren’t as “in character” as Kira’s were—most weren’t distinctive enough for me to tell them apart easily. This was particularly disappointing with Marcus as the summary made it sound as if he would have a heftier amount of the book devoted to him. While he had more POVs than anyone other than Kira (and I enjoyed his sense of humor most of the time), I wish we had seen more from him as I felt that the events on Long Island could have merited additional screen-time.

What Wells excels at in this book is the ongoing discussion between Kira and other characters (especially Samm) about morality. What extremes do you go to for survival when the human population has been reduced to 35,000 people and there are 500,000 enemy super-soldiers still around? Fragments spends a lot of time exploring this theme, and it is done superbly. I’d talk about it more, but my favorite conversation involves major spoilers for the book.

I especially enjoyed the wider look at the ruined world. Wells clearly spent a lot of time figuring out what would happen to various cities after twelve years of neglect, and the results were stunning (and a bit terrifying and depressing, honestly). The more we got to know about ParaGen and its creations, the more fascinating (and repulsive) the world got. As a character, Afa also helped widen the scope of the world (and raise the possibility of other humans surviving outside Long Island), though he was emotionally taxing most of the time.

The romance that developed in this book was delightfully un-dramatic, and the action scenes were superb. I have a deep fondness for action scenes that rely on the character’s intelligence (and not necessarily skill) in order to win, and Kira’s smarts are often the key to her survival, especially as she learns to use the link. Give me brainy characters over brawny characters any day. (That said, there were some moments where I thought the characters needed to put the dots together sooner, like what the use of “control” meant. Come on, Marcus, you worked in the hospital. Even I figured it out, and I haven’t had a science class since 2005.)

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re already invested in the trilogy and are willing to put up with all the frustrations inherent in second books. Wells does an amazing job of expanding the world in many ways, but in the end, the book isn’t as satisfying as Partials was. If you’re not already invested, I’d say wait until book three is out and read the series in one go. I have confidence that Wells will give us a fantastic and satisfying ending, especially now that all of the pieces are in the right place. You’ll just have to wait until next year for that to happen.

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Review: Orleans

Orleans
Title: Orleans
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Pages: 324
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Review Copy: Purchased
Available: March 7, 2013 (On Shelves Now!)

Summary: After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

Sherri L. Smith delivers an expertly crafted story about a fierce heroine whose powerful voice and firm determination will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. –summary and cover image from Goodreads.

Review: “In the early days, before the sky got so angry at the sea and went to war, there was a piece of land between them, and they called her New Orleans. She was a beautiful place, a city that sparkled like diamonds, sang like songbirds, and danced a two-step to stop men’s hearts” (p 35). Through a storyteller, Sherrie L. Smith gives us a glimpse of the past beauty of New Orleans. Then, with exquisite skill, she proceeds to show us what time, floods, sickness and nature has wrought on this city. The world-building in this novel is amazing. We see “…the Garden District, where the city, had gone to seed, a cancerous jungle. Lush garden courtyards had burst like tumors, swallowing their outer buildings whole” (p 162). Debris from floods rests  high in the trees or under the mud, mold creeps up on buildings throughout the city and the forest seems to be a living breathing creature. There is more to this world than the surroundings though.

Smith also slowly reveals the new rules and ways people have learned to survive within their new world. Survival is seldom anything but gritty, messy, and dangerous and that is definitely the case here. Fen, the main character, has led a hard life and it has left its mark on her in more ways than one. She is described as the fierce one and there is no doubt she has learned to fight and protect herself and those she loves. As part of her protection, she keeps herself closed off from most people. This is one of the only drawbacks to this book. It is easy to admire Fen for her intelligence, strength and courage, but it is also very hard to get to know her personally. In spite of this, Smith manages to allow the reader just close enough to care for Fen through the use of her first person accounts. Fen’s voice is clear and almost poetic. Her dialect may be distracting initially, but most readers will likely adjust to it fairly quickly.

Early on, Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States, gets pushed into Fen’s life. The author used third person for his storyline and this seemed to help keep the focus solidly on Fen. Her story remains the main thread though there are many throughout. Smith stopped just short of having too many threads going, but they do weave together well.

There were many layers to the story including trust, racial issues, economic inequality and respect for life. After devastating floods and illness, society has adjusted, but there are still people who do not have what they need and others who have more than their fair share. In Orleans, Smith has created a frighteningly believable world where people must fight for their lives every single day.

Recommendation: Get it soon. The world-building in this novel lifts it above many others in the genre and Fen will be a character you won’t soon forget.

Extras: Blog interview with the author and giveaway
Blog Tour post on Author’s blog
Orleans: Carnivale – a short story prequel to Orleans

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