(T)he story is set in the near future, in a believable world populated by flawed characters; even “the good guys” aren’t perfect, and “the bad guys” are just people. Likable, even. Some characters I liked, some I didn’t, and some I wished were of stronger fiber — but they couldn’t be, because they behaved too much like me.
Attitudes, behaviors, notions — for the most part, I believed ’em, because the characters felt like real people, though in an anachronistic, futuristic version of our own world. They behave emotionally but also pragmatically, doing what they have to do, not only to survive, but to position themselves to help those they love. They become colleagues, even friends, with people whose beliefs, lives, experiences, interests are different from their own.
Aside #1: I laughed at the creative “cussing” delivered eloquently by quick-tempered Jordan.
Aside #2: I also enjoyed the references to The Princess Bride. Folks who’ve viewed the movie will recognize quotes tossed back and forth by the young engaged couple, Levi and Jemma. However, near the bottom of page 287, there’s a passage of cheesy dialogue that’s either a reference to the novel (which I haven’t read in years), or is just mush gone bad. Made me cringe. And when the story was going well!
Aside #3: Justin, Jordan, Jemma, Jennifer. As a writer, I’m guilty of using too many names that start with the same letter, or look similar on the page. As an editor, I point them out so authors can substitute other names, and therefore prevent readers from being confused. Williamson does give her characters interesting names in this novel, but I sometimes forgot who was Justin and who was Jordan.
The Safe Lands have conveniences and technology that the outsiders don’t, and yet the frontier-like countryside bears remnants of a once-thriving, once-advanced civilization: vehicles (though with limited fuel to power them), video games (though they consume generator power best used for other tasks), actual tailored cloth garments (rather than leather or woven plants).
Some of the customs harken back to an older time. The men of the village hunt for food, and trade with other villages. Tribal elders govern the people. There are arranged or semi-arranged marriages.
Levi is engaged to Jemma and soon to be married, but younger brother Mason has no interest in the girl his father chooses for him, and youngest brother Omar feels picked on and left out. So he does something about it.
He makes a deal with the enforcers.
The deal goes wrong — people die, and the rest are captured — but the end result is still the same: Omar and the villagers are taken to the Safe Lands.
It’s a gilded cage, full of self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking, controlled by strict rules and yet hedonistic, and a different moral code. The individual remains only so long as he aids the whole. Families don’t exist, because marriage is obsolete, and children belong to the state.
No one’s found a cure for the plague that affects nearly every resident of the ironically-named Safe Lands, but — using medical and technological advances unknown to outsiders — they’ve created ways to distract from or cover up the physical effects of the disease. Via surgeries and SimArt tattoos, enhancements are common, and clothing and makeup are outrageous, reminding me of traits found in anime: perfect faces, brilliant eyes, funky-colored hair, crazy clothes. But those perfect faces exist only after paint has been applied.
Yep. Paint. Otherwise, everyone would see the flaking skin, a symptom of the plague.
Paint is a metaphor for perceptions and lies: the words people say about us, and what we believe about us. It’s also a temporary covering of a permanent problem, a problem everyone knows exists but no one’s really trying to stop. Regardless of appearances or health, Safe Landers have grown comfortable with their disease. It’s just a part of life.
And life is short.
Tomorrow, a final thoughts on the novel. Meantime, check out other stops on the blog tour:
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Morgan L. Busse
Emma or Audrey Engel
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Asha Marie Pena
* Dagnabbit! This posted a day earlier than it was scheduled. Oops! Not gonna fight WordPress, though. Just gonna roll with it. The CSFF Blog Tour is three days (Monday-Wednesday, August 12-14), but there won’t be a third post from me regarding this novel. I’m just trying to get home from a long road trip.