I didn't go back and read my review of the first book in this series, but I'm pretty sure whatever I said there probably applies here, too. This is not an impressive dystopia -- it relies on its love story because the world-building is only so-s0, but unfortunately the love story is only so-so as well. I just don't feel invested in Aria and Perry's relationship, so it was hard to really care when a bit of a love triangle (or love square? It was hard to tell whether there was supposed to be something romancy happening between two of the characters) that developed here, especially since it was more-or-less devoid of any real tension because the other love interest was not fully developed or compelling in any way, although she had the feeling of a character that was created by trying too hard to do something interesting.
There were some moments when Perry just seemed dumb, like in allowing his clanmates to tattoo Aria in a ceremony with the potential to be dangerous even though he knew a bunch of them hated her -- I could have seen the way that would turn out, so why couldn't he? He might be a little too naive to make a good clan leader. There were also parts of this audiobook I had to listen to more than once because I lost interest and then lost the thread of the story; there were other places where that happened and I decided it just wasn't worth it to go back and catch myself up.
This book wasn't horrible, hence the ubiquitous three-star rating, but you won't miss much if you skip it, either. I'm certainly not going to bother reading the final installment in the trilogy.
This felt more like a novel about a cult that happened to take place in a post-apocalyptic world than a post-apocalyptic novel.
That was OK with me. I like science fiction and fantasy that veers toward the literary, and that is definitely what "California" has going on, using the setting as a backdrop to explore complex human relationships, particularly between the married couple protagonists and the wife's charismatic brother. Still, this was not the sort of "meditation on marriage" that I've heard other reviewers call it; something about Frida and Cal's relationship always felt a little bit flat to me -- I was never fully invested in it. I was far more invested in the relationship between Frida, Cal, and Mikey, the charismatic leader of the community they find themselves attempting to be a part of after they have lived on their own in the wilderness for a couple years.
Frida's pregnancy, the inciting incident that convinces her they need to seek a wider community, raised interesting questions about what it means to parent and to plan for a future in a world that is dangerous and uncertain. The resolution to this question was not wholly satisfying. I also could have done with stronger world-building -- I got a sense of what the world was like post-apocalypse, but not exactly what had precipitated it, except something about an oil crisis? But I guess that's par for the course in "literary" science fiction -- it tends to leave the hardcore world-building to the hardcore genre writers.
So that's a fair amount of criticism for a book that I ultimately still gave four stars, but the book, the world, and the character dynamics did hold my interest from beginning to end. Wasn't thrilled with the narration, though, so probably wouldn't recommend the audio version.
This was a giveaway win that I won on the very awesome group, Apocalypse Whenever as part of their June giveaway. I'd like to thank both the author and the group for the book!
What I Liked:
I liked the males cloned by the AI, Eve, were programmed to reach maturity within a few months. Since the AI had been constructed to figure out the bee problem, it likened the maturity rate to like the one found in bees.
The Melior apis were terrifyingly awesome.
I loved the deviousness of the AI i.e. how she figured things out, made the men play poker to learn how to deceive humans, deliberately failed the Turing tests, and her whole plan to clone more men and use them as her army. The last part is problematic though, as you will read below.
What I Didn't Like:
The book started off as YA but that changed by the end of the story.
I almost never notice proofing and editing mistakes but there were quite a few of them so, it was hard to miss. Spelling mistakes etc. are always a big turn off for me!
The events of the story are too predictable. I sighed out loud when the main character, Ben, was pitted against his only friend, Frank, in the final fight.
If the ozone has finally given in and collapsed as the story mentions, then how have humans managed not to become UV-riddled pincushions? If it isn't important to the plot, why mention it?
Another minor quibble, if the Melior Apis is the name of a species, then it should be written like, Melior apis or Melior apis
Say, Eve clones more of Frank-men and sends them to the women for reproduction. How would that work? The women accepted Ben because of his unselfish nature. Why would they treat the Frank-men the same way? Wouldn't Ben tell them what Frank was like? Moreover, why would the army of Franks want to take over the women camp? Wasn't Frank competing and winning all the contests, so he could get out and get with the ladies? I think there are some plot issues that need to be sorted out!
This book was a disappointment after the first two in the series, both of which were vivid and riveting. Fortunately, I had been forewarned that this one was a bit lackluster, so I didn't go into it with expectations that were too high.
Mostly, it felt like a sequel that didn't really need to be written. I think the author (or publisher) felt compelled to tie the first two books together, but both of them are strong standalones and tying them together in this third volume felt forced. Plus, a lot of what happens in here is not very different from what happened in the earlier books -- the struggle to find enough food, the windfalls and disappointments, the highs and lows of living through an apocalypse, you know, that sort of thing.
And even though it's shorter than the other books in the series (I think), it has a lot more characters, so there was quite a bit to keep track of in the second half. The book started to feel "crowded" since several of the characters were not developed all that well. Also, I noticed some really weird gender things in this book that either were not present in the other two books or that just didn't strike me in the same way. But I think that Pfeffer might have some internalized sexism going on ... Miranda's mother was always very insistent that Miranda stay home while the boys were able to strike out and explore/adventure/etc., and Alex seemed to think that for some reason he got to decide what his sister's fate would be even though she was old enough to have some say in the matter. (Also, I think the decision the author made regarding Julia's storyline was absolutely atrocious). I liked Alex less in this book than in the book that is actually about him -- in this volume he came across as controlling and almost stereotypically pious.
For whatever reason there is yet one more book in this series, which I may or may not read. The first two books are great, but as far as I'm concerned you wouldn't be missing too much if you just stopped there.