This is a tricky review to write because I’ve got mixed feelings and I’m not a sitting on the fence kind of gal typically; I tend to love or hate! Did I enjoy it? Yes. Sort of. I whipped through it speedily and it was an easy and fairly engaging read from a storyline and narrative perspective and I’ll probably even read the second and third instalments of the trilogy. My main frustration is that it could have been so much more and fell short.
To give you a bit of context – and stay with me, you’ll get where I’m going with this in a sec – Stephen King is one of my favourite authors. Of all time. I grew up devouring his novels and passionately believe that he is one of our great storytellers; few manage to weave the webs of multiple story lines, multilayered character development and narratives from diverse perspectives, often moving backwards and forwards in time with ease. Most pale in comparison and this is exactly what happened here. Nora Roberts’ Year One has echoes of The Stand (that’s putting it mildly) which is right up there as one of my fave King novels and therefore a tough one to beat in my eyes. It’s a thousand odd pages of awesomeness; a panoramic battle of Good versus Evil that begins when a rapidly mutating flu virus is released (by mistake) from a military facility and kills 99 percent of the world’s population leaving the few survivors to re-build the human race. It’s atmospheric, suspenseful, rich in character and detail and a cracking, fast paced story that you never want to end and feel bereft when it does!
Cue Year One, where a drop of blood spilled on New Year’s Eve in Scotland is the catalyst for a virus which kills a third of the global population in its first month, sees strange powers ignite in some and a fight brewing between Good and Evil in the dwindling population as they look to re-form and unite in this new world. Sound familiar?
Blatant copycatting aside, I love a good post-apocalyptic read so threw this in my Kmart trolley regardless and do you know what, the first third of the book grabbed me and I enjoyed seeing the build of The Doom and how magical creatures were born out of mankind’s destruction. But after that it started to lose its way; key characters never really took shape and were too superficial, so I didn’t invest in them to the point that when the proverbial mainish character corks it at the end of the book, I didn’t really care. And that speaks volumes. The 400 or so pages that King devoted to building his characters and weaving the strands of their various journeys until the all-important coming together of the survivors, came far too soon in Year One and quite frankly too easily. There were no serious mishaps, deviations or disasters; it all came together too neatly and too early on in the piece.
To compare it to another author, it reminded me in style of James Patterson; I went through a phase of reading these easy, breezy formulaic cop romps a decade ago and there was a comfort in their repetition and neatly tying up of loose ends. My criticism of Patterson – as big a fan as I was back then – was that they concluded way too abruptly; you’d be racing through the plot twists and turns and having a fun old ride and then the story would fall off the edge of a cliff; the killer would be revealed, it would be swiftly concluded and you’d be left feeling royally cheated and as if the book still had 80 pages left to go.
And this is how I feel in a nutshell about Year One. It was superficial in character and plot, it never reached its full potential and it was too short and sometimes not so sweet. It was The Stand Lite.