It began on New Year’s Eve.
The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed–and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.
Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river–or in the ones you know and love the most.
As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.
In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.
The end has come. The beginning comes next.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect going in to Year One. I thought ‘apocalyptic’ and there I was right. But I didn’t realize how much actual fantasy stuff would come into play. If I had to do a quick sum up of this book it would be ‘Contagion meets the X-Men’ where someone throws in a dose of standard fantasy prophecy for good measure.
The story starts us off at the beginning of the end, allowing us to see patient zero and how the plague spreads. The descriptions of the illness get a bit graphic at points. And silly me, while I have no problems with reading about gore or graphic violence, symptoms of illnesses and medical stuff makes me get a bit light headed. Roberts didn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of the virus, nor its after effects as so many people were dead that no one could keep up with things.
Near the beginning of the story we meet various characters that we’ll follow throughout. For a long time it’s not just one story, but several different people’s stories told through their eyes as the virus spreads. Some of these people, we learn, are gifted with powers. And for some of them, after the virus has taken its toll, their powers grow. Magic is alive and well, and so are fairies, demons, shape shifters and other flights of fancy. I think this is the part that surprised me most about the book, because I wasn’t really expecting some people to be able to sprout wings, and yet.
Still, most of that is in the background for a while. As the story goes on the focus becomes getting to safety. Each group of survivors know they need to get out of the cities, find somewhere they can have food, shelter, and be able to defend against those that want to take what they have. Just because some good people have survived the plague (and our POV characters are all good people, even though they may not always be perfect), bad people have survived as well. Selfish people, bigots, murderers, etc. This will all feel pretty familiar to fans of any apocalyptic stories, or immediate post-apocalyptic stories. Society breaks down and with it law and order goes as folks take things into their own hands. I do love these types of stories but it may feel a bit tropey at this point for others.
There is some stuff that comes into play later that I won’t touch on specifics of so as not to spoil anything, but the book gets a lot more dynamic the deeper you get into it. Our characters are constantly having to regroup as one plan or another is disrupted by outside forces. It becomes pretty clear at some point that there is something more at stake here, there’s a reason the folks with powers survived the pandemic, and there is a battle looming on a distant horizon. But all that seems like a far out future while our characters struggle for immediate needs in the present.
I don’t think I have to say that Nora Roberts writes great characters. She’s written romance for years, and with that genre writing great characters is key. She also really nails the human condition, again not much of surprise (as one of my friends noted). One of the characters I ended up loving the most I started out not thinking very much of in the beginning so I think that says a lot about the way she writes character growth as well.
I think the pacing was great on this one. It helped that the characters kept having challenge after challenge to overcome. This is a story about not only surviving but being able to rebuild, and come together as a disparate group of people to accomplish that.
There were so many sections of the book I loved for different reasons but I think the end was my favorite part. I’m really excited for the second book. 5/5 stars.