Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Book Review: Alice in No-Man's-Land by James Knapp

Pros: lots of action, variety of action, interesting world-building some tense & gritty scenes

Cons: black book information sometimes comes at convenient times, soldiers at the end of the book make some questionable decisions

Yuric Walshe is on an airship to visit the footprint his branch of Cerulean Holdings has in Ypsilanti Bloc as prelude to an urban renewal project.  Decades ago a food borne plague wiped out large areas of the US.  Most of the country recovered, but some areas slow to recover were walled off instead, and allowed to fester in a post-apocalyptic state.  Mr. Walshe is looking at an illegal black book with data from one of his competitors and talking to his kids when the ship is attacked.  Alice, his 20 year old daughter and protege, and Cody, his 11 year old son, make it to drop ships before its too late.  When Alice comes to, she’s alone in an extremely hostile environment.  Through the black book she learns that the rival branch is not only responsible for the crash, they’re using the event as an excuse to speed up the renewal, a process she’s discovering is more violent and destructive than she believed.

The book focuses on Alice’s journey through Ypsilanti Bloc with the two people who find her drop ship as she tries to leave, contact the outside world and/or find her brother.  You really get a feel for her as a character, both her resilience and her surprising naivete.  Despite the evidence in front of her and the constant testimony of those around her, Alice holds on to her beliefs about Ypsilanti Bloc and what the urban renewal project will do for the people in it.  Only towards the end of the book does she accept that things aren’t what she’s always believed.

Basilio and Maya, the people who help Alice out, are very interesting characters.  I didn’t like Maya at first, as she fit the jealous angry woman stereotype, but the more you get to know her the more fleshed out her character becomes and the more understandable her actions - and reactions - are.  I’m surprised at the lengths they end up going to to help Alice, but their relationship does develop as time goes by, making their actions realistic.

I was impressed at the variety of dangers Alice faced as she moved through the Bloc.  It’s an interesting post-apocalyptic setting within a modernized world.  The Bloc itself has all the traditional dangers: cannibals, gangs, etc. and some of the scenes get pretty tense.  There’s a good balance between action and down town, keeping the novel fast paced and entertaining.  

The world-building was well done, with a good set-up and chapter openings containing quotes from the outside world.  This allows you to understand how the people from Alice’s community feel about the Bloc, even as you see the Bloc itself first hand. 

The black book was occasionally the source of much needed intelligence at the right time, which felt a bit contrived.

The ending was satisfying, though I felt that the soldiers were a little more inept than they should have been.  More on this in the spoiler section.

If you like post-apocalyptic fiction and a fast read, it’s a great book.

*** Spoilers ***

I couldn’t understand why the soldiers rescuing Alice would take off their camouflage while still in the middle of a dangerous situation.  Even less so removing the camouflage from their ship, allowing the Sons of Freedom soldiers to shoot at it.  And why didn’t they have bullet proof armour on?  Sure, the guys shot in the face were goners, but the guy shot in the back should have been protected.  

As for the Sons of Freedom, I can understand why there wasn’t a guard in the hall outside Alice’s room (the building was in the middle of their own compound) but why weren’t Alice and Cody’s rooms locked?  Even if the soldiers didn’t think they could escape the compound, they probably wanted them to stay put and not roam around the compound itself.  And how did they miss Basilio breaking in when they were already on a higher alert from Alice’s break-in?

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