First, the caveat. I got this book from Netgalley as an advanced reader copy.
This is one of those books that makes you think. It makes you consider what you’d do in the same situation, and it makes you consider what choices you’d come to–what would be the most important thing to you.
I don’t want to give spoilers, so I’m going to try to be careful. I plan to err on the side of vague. The book is about Em, who wakes up in a coffin. She breaks out and discovers she’s in a dusty room with several other coffins. She doesn’t know her name. She has some memories, but a lot of blank spots. She soon finds several others in the same boat, and now they have to find out where they are, who put them in the coffins, and most importantly, find their way home.
One of the things that some people will find off-putting is that the story is told in present tense. Normally that would drive me nuts, except that the present tense makes a lot of sense because it works well with the element of discovery. Em is constantly discovering things–she has little sense of the past or the future, so the present is where she lives. All her decisions have to be based on the now because she has no experience or any sense of what the consequences might be. It makes her situation tense, to say the least.
I enjoyed the story. It was gripping and at times grim. It didn’t shy away from the difficult aspects. In fact, it embraced them, but focused more on the personal consequences of the choices and the events. Each character has to learn who s/he is. This is a story about identity. What makes it unique is that the identities the characters have no outside references to decide who they are, or what they should do or not do. This means they are stuck with making decision based on simply who they are without any external guidance or pre-existing framework of morals, except for a handful of memories that aren’t all that useful.
The book raises a lot of meaty themes. The question of nature vs nurture when it comes to personality and self. Then there’s the question of religion and what value it has. Leadership is important, and loyalty and friendship. When does the group outweigh the individual? There are questions of consequences and whether you can choose beyond your nature.
My only complaints about the book are that the religious element comes a little out of nowhere. I wish it had been eased in a little more intuitively rather than just arriving. It made sense and fit perfectly as the story went forward, but the arrival was awkward and unexpected. I also thought the leadership quandary was a little bit heavy handed, though a lot of it made sense and the doubts were important as well as the choices eventually made. Especially in light of the fact that they were based on the here and now and what logic the people could scrape together. There was no way to predict consequences and that made choices really scary. Another oddity, to me, was the basis in Aztec/Mayan culture. I wasn’t entirely sure why that was the case. I also wanted to know how and why the monsters appeared as they did–I won’t say more, since that would be spoilerific, and it really isn’t very important to the story, but just something I’m curious about.
Once several revelations/discoveries are made, the development of the relationships become more interesting and important. I don’t want to say much more because of spoilers, but just that there were some really cool and smart developments between the characters that blossomed in unusual ways by the end of the book.
Also, it was fun how Sigler mixed races in this book in unusual ways.
I’d totally recommend this book. I am hoping there will be a sequel. I’m totally going to have my kids read it.