Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: Alive, by Scott Sigler

Title: Alive
Author: Scott Sigler
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: July 14th, 2015
Read: June 2015
Where It Came From: ARC from author at PHXCC
Genre: YA-speculative-fiction
Rating: 3.75 Coffin-Cradles

How, oh how, to review this book without giving away any of its secrets? As the author stated on a panel at Phoenix Comicon last month, the book is pretty much secrets from page one. Those secrets drive the story, and I will try my darnedest to preserve them! (Also, I like a challenge like that.) So. Here goes.

Our narrator wakes up in a strange place with little idea of who she is, or how she got there. After fighting her way to freedom from the adverse situation she finds herself in immediately upon waking, she finds others like her. They are somewhere, in a place with many rooms. Also, many skeletons. Weird carvings on the walls that seem reminiscent of the ancient world, but also evidence of technology not of the ancient world. Where are the adults? Where are other people? The need for water and food drives them to explore and try to find a way out of there, wherever there is, as they try to unravel the mystery of their existence and the situation they find themselves in.

I’ve heard good things about Scott Sigler’s books, but this is actually the first book of his that I’ve read. My friend saw him signing ARCs at the Del Rey booth at Phoenix Comicon, and kindly grabbed one for me (I think I was probably at a panel at the time). She told me that he had said to read the first 20 pages that night, and so, dutiful recipient of free books that I am, I did so. Bad idea!!! I was hooked from the get go, and let me tell you—wandering around a convention while your brain is fixated on reading a new book is not the way to go. It was an absorbing, quick read that I tore through once the convention was over.

Now, I hesitate to say this because I really, really despise the publishing trend of describing new books as “Book A meets Book B!”, because I find the comparisons are rarely apt and mostly lead to disappointment (Harry Potter meets Men in Black! Game of Thrones for teens! Batman meets Rainbow Rowell!). But I think this book appeals to the same part of me that the TV show Lost did. Not in plot, not in voice or style or anything like that, but more in the level of mystery surrounding, well, pretty much everything. The mysteries and strangeness at every turn engage the reader (or watcher) in the story, and before you know it you’re formulating theories about what’s really going on and forging ahead for more.

One of the really cool things about this book is that the way it’s structured and told allows the reader to fill the shoes of Em, our protagonist. The first-person present narration (consider yourself warned, Susan) of course plays a big part in that, but also the fact that as soon as Em wakes up, we know just as much as she does (i.e., very little), and only learn new information when she does, as we try to understand the many mysteries along with her.

If I had any quibbles, it would be that not all of the characters truly came alive for me in this book. Part of me thinks this makes sense, though, since the characters themselves are still trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into what’s going on. I didn’t grow terribly attached to any of them, with the exception being Gaston—he was great! (And provided comic relief.) He reminded me a bit of Sevro from Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, in all the best ways. The other quibble would be that the way 12-year-olds are characterized in the story actually felt quite a bit younger than that, to me. (Apologies for vagueness, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it!)

At any rate, by the end of the book, some mysteries have been solved but plenty remain, which makes sense now that I know it’s the first book in a trilogy. Overall, an intriguing premise and a fast-paced read, and I look forward to seeing how the characters continue to learn about and define themselves in future books!

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

**I think that might be the ARC cover, and that the actual finished book might have a different one? This one is very cool, though.

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