Year one is sort of urban fantasy twist on "The Stand". It tracks the path of groups of survivors of "The Doom", a virus which kills anyone who is not immune. As billions die, some of the immune discover latent magical powers and find themselves drawn to The Dark or The Light.
It's an easy to read entertainment that effortlessly manages the large number of characters and multiple initially parallel but eventually converging plot lines. The good guys are clearly drawn and instantly likeable. There are babies and a lab-cross dog. The bad guys are irredeemably evil and everyone else is either dead or consumed by fear.
Nora Roberts' accomplished writing kept me reading, in much the same way that high production standards make it easy to watch "Chicago Fire" or "Rookie Blue" but the good guys didn't become people I cared about and the bad guys seemed more like comic-book demons than people.
About halfway through, I realised that, although "Year One" was entertaining enough for me to stick with it to the end, something was preventing me from immersing myself in the story. It took me a while to isolate the cause: my lack of empathy with middle-class America. Most of the main good guy characters in this book come from privileged, sometimes very privileged, backgrounds. The Doom has destroyed their bright futures and now they have to adapt to survive.
It turns out that the secret to surviving the apocalypse is to band together with skilled people who embrace middle-class values, choose faith over fear, work together as a team and focus on "doing what comes next". Of course, emergent magical powers are also pretty useful.
There's nothing wrong with this. It might even turn out to be true. It's also not so far from the message of "The Stand". What spooked me about it in "Year One" is that Nora Roberts wraps such positive emotions around these values that they slid into my imagination already tagged as a Good Thing. Then I thought about the scale of loss, of the billions dead. Of cultures across the world extinguished, of losing everyone you ever loved, of having the value of your previous life challenged or eroded and it seemed to me that the main characters react almost as if they're on medication. Their ability to focus "on what needs doing" is certainly a survival skill but the ease with which they do it, the unthinking adoption of the "I'll protect Us against Them" mindset and the strong link Nora Robers makes between this stance and The Light made it difficult for me to empathise with or care about these people.
Later, I struggled with Nora Roberts' obsession with the idea that some things are "meant", that they're part of a "destiny", that it isn't enough for people to be attractive, privileged, educated and have magical gifts, they also have to have some kind of pintable-tilting agents of fate on their side. This began to feel like the dystopian urban fantasy version of meeting Mr Right.
At about the same time, we got the sex scene between the Alpha witch couple, Max and Lorna, the two "good guys" that I liked least, and it surfaced everything I disliked about the book: the sex was glossy, the sentiment was saccharine and the allegedly spontaneous vows that followed where so cliché filled and delivered with such self-absorbed seriousness that I felt I'd dropped into the middle of a romance novel. I have less trouble accepting a world-ending-virus and the emergence of latent magical powers than I do believing that people actually talk to each other like this when there's no camera crew present.
I liked the end section of the book well enough, setting aside the drumbeat message about "doing what needs to be done". I disliked that fact that not one of the bad guys was given any motivation other than fear, ignorance or just being born that way. The idea of a Messianic "One" sent to save the world doesn't do it for me so I won't be bothering with book two in this series.
If this book appeals to you, I recommend the audiobook version. It's skillfully narrated by Julia Whelan. You can hear her work on the SoundCloud link below.
[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/378462590" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]
The Early 20th Century writer HP Lovecraft has spawned a whole sub-genre of horror dedicated to his ideas, often called the Cthulhu Mythos or Lovecraftian horror. Not surprising that nearly 100 years later, people are still re-imagining his work and characters. "Carter and Lovecraft" is a different spin on Lovecraft. What if Lovecraft, frankly a huge bigot and racist, had descendants of color and one of them ran a bookshop? What if one of his recurring characters, Randolph Carter, actually existed, and his descendant was a police officer? And they team up in a story? Well, that's this book. Daniel Carter is a detective who has lived through the trauma of his partner killing himself in front of him after they rescue a kid from a serial killer. His last words referring to "the twist". Carter resigns from the police and becomes a private detective. Shortly thereafter, he inherits a bookstore from a person he never knew in Providence, Rhode Island. When he goes down there, he meets Mina Lovecraft, an African American woman who runs the bookstore for her uncle, who disappeared months ago and has been heard from since. Around the same time, Carter is hired on a case that leads to some very strange murders committed by a rogue mathematician. Could all these things be related? Yes. So this is a very strange book. It's relatively short, but there's a lot here to chew on. Howard knows his Lovecraft. This book is full of nuggets and easter eggs for Lovecraftian enthusiasts. I was encouraged to look up some elements of the story, and it gets deep into the Mythos. I think he captured the aspect of Lovecraft in that you feel like you have no idea about what's going on and you probably won't find out. He also touches on the visceral horror that is integral to Lovecraft. In some ways, he develops some aspects of the Mythos better. His characters are more fleshed out and are used as more than devices to spread the feeling of fear and fatalism about an indifferent universe. He picks up some concepts and themes from some of Lovecraft's stories and creates a new story out of them set in the 21st Century. But my favorite part is how Howard subversively dissects Lovecraft's bigotry and racism. Mina is a descendant would have done Lovecraft proud if he could get past his white supremacy and racism. She's thoughtful, intelligent, emotionally stable, well-read, and loyal and very strong. She had a matter-of-fact approach to weirdness, which is enviable, considering some of the events that happen in this family. She seems to be the antidote to Lovecraft's claustrophobic fear of the Other and conviction that some people are just genetically inferior. Daniel Carter is a good co-lead. He's a decent guy. As a cop, he tends to be a skeptic about things, but in the face of weirdness, he doesn't shut down, he follows the lead. I like that he had to confront his own hidden prejudices and comes out a better man after he did so. He does feel at times the helplessness in the face of events beyond their comprehension that is emblematic of Lovecraft's protagonists, but doesn't give into and doesn't allow it to break his mind. There's a developing connection between Carter and Lovecraft, but it's nascent. They become friends, and its likely what they go through will only strengthen that bond. It is possible that things may become romantic over time. But more importantly, they know that they have each others' backs. Of course, there had to be some weird people, because it's Lovecraft. The rogue mathematician, the Waites, femme fatales who are simultaneously sexy but also deeply wrong, and their brain dead spouses, the mysterious lawyer who informs Carter of the bequest. Enough to make any reader feel uneasy about everything. So why the <b>3.5/5.0 star </b>rating? The main feeling I came out of this was "What did I just read?" It feels short to me. It was a book that kept my interest, and I liked the main characters, but I also felt like there was a lot that I didn't get or understand when it ended. There are some gruesome elements to this story and subject matter that made me uncomfortable. This one is not for young readers. Frankly, I was a bit disturbed by some imagery. The rogue mathematician who discovers a way to manipulate reality is a profoundly damaged individual lacking in morals. His acts are unconscionable and bizarrely cruel. To him, murder is manipulating the odds. It's always hard to read about people like this for me. Readers who like having the questions will enjoy this book. I think I would have preferred a longer book that delved a little deeper into those unanswered questions. This is going to be a series, so maybe things will be more fleshed out in later books. I like the main characters and the concept, so I'll keep reading.