"This was to be the day I ended my life."
So begins the story of a young man, who, having lost everything, must re-discover both the reason and the will to keep on going. While the setup is far from original, it is timely for our overly depressive cultural environment. In fact, it just might be a perfect antidote to the barrage of so-called respectable fiction that essentially spends thousands of beautiful words to tell us to give up.
OR it could just be a fast-paced, highly entertaining space opera with a balanced combination of dystopian and utopian elements and a healthy dose of romance. Either way, it is worthy of your consideration.
The narrator-protagonist is introduced to us at the lowest point of his life. He is injured, imprisoned, and, as the first sentence indicates, suicidal. Our dominant emotion during those first paragraphs is pity, for we meet him as a victim. However, only a few pages in, we find out that in the dreary world of victims and brutes, he is neither. His heart longs for freedom even if the concept is unknown. He enjoys achievement even if it brings pain rather than reward. He values knowledge even if it is forbidden. Not quite a hero, not yet at least, but someone who strives in that direction as we, the readers, cheer him on.
The middle chunk of the novel, while lower on action, is impressive nevertheless in its own right. The author, a native born American, shows instinctive understanding of how someone who had only ever known oppression might behave if unexpectedly thrown into a free society. At several points in the story, where most American readers would simply get a light chuckle, I was thinking back to my own culture shock upon arriving in the U.S. from the former Soviet Union more than two decades ago. Simple acts, like smiling to passer-by and having small talk with strangers, took getting used to. Anything beyond, like engaging in political arguments, while intellectually accepted, took a while to internalize. And so a scene where the protagonist expects a woman to be arrested for criticizing the mayor in public, for me goes somewhat beyond simple amusement. I also appreciated references to speech patterns. Yes, even using the same language, free people speak differently. If the language of the novel at times feels stilted, you will notice that it gets less so over time, and I thought it was both subtle and brilliant as an artistic choice by the author.
The Big Reveal at the end is not particularly shocking for anyone paying attention, but is played for all it's worth both emotionally and in terms of dramatic suspense. A thriller reader in me wished for some parts towards the end to be tighter, with less talk and more 'splosions, but the pacing remained decent enough. The last line of the novel is as satisfying as the first line was hooky, and it's really hard to complain of minor details when the novel leaves you in such high spirits once you turn the last page. With freedom under attack all over the world, this book is a gift and an inspiration to liberty loving readers everywhere.
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