The Island (Fallen Earth)

I downloaded two books out of the iBookstore at the same time, both free. One had a dragon on the cover, the other a biohazard symbol. I decided to start with the one that had the dragon. I generally prefer fantasy to thriller, though I enjoy both.

I hadn’t got very far when I scratched my head and figured that I must have fired up the biohazard story first. I read about an outbreak of La Fiebre in Mexico, the failed attempts of the governments to contain the deadly contagion (measures that were incredibly half-assed, but that’s a quibble), and the pending collapse of Civilization As We Know It. It was interesting, and the main character was interesting.

But first we’re given a whole crapload of backstory about our guy William — all to answer the question that must come later, “how did this guy become so damn capable?” But William is all right. The world is about to die, and he has no illusions that he is going to make it through. He decides to take control of the one thing left to him: where he will die when the fever catches him. He chooses to take the boat his father restored and go to an island along the coast of North Carolina, scene of one of his happiest weeks ever.

I like the logic of that. I like William’s melancholy-but-not-crippled vibe. I like his intelligence. No need to make him selectively stupid to make the plot work.

Which brings me to my biggest beef with this story, and it’s a big one. The plot. At the end of the book, I read some notes by the writer. He said he wanted to write fantasy, but built on a rock of reality. This book was the rock. Which is another way of saying I got all the way to the end, and the story hadn’t started yet. We’ve had some events, a few Important Sailing Facts, more than enough foreshadowing, and we’ve got a bad guy — but the conflict so far is just two guys who don’t like each other. Neither has an actual goal.

And while our first-person narrator is not at all shy about foreshadowing the ravages of the disease and saying that what comes next is much worse, he is annoyingly coy about what that is, especially considering a presumed audience in a first-person narrative that has lived through it all.

There is exactly one sentence in this novel that hints that it’s the introduction of a fantasy story. It comes right at the end of this volume, and leads me to suspect that the actual story may be about to begin.

So, what to say? I liked the writing from a technical standpoint. A good flow, capturing the voice of the main guy. I liked William. I liked the setting. But I didn’t like The Island. Too many pages burned setting the stage, not enough of the actual drama.

Still, I’m tempted to pay for book two. The writing is solid enough that it might be enjoyable when the story actually gets under way.

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