Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

The wars that followed The Collapse nearly destroyed civilization. Now, twenty years later, the world is faced with a choice—rebuild what was or make something new. Stephen Quinn, a quiet and dutiful fifteen-year-old scavenger, travels Post-Collapse America with his Dad and stern ex-Marine Grandfather. They travel light. They keep to themselves. Nothing ever changes. But when his Grandfather passes suddenly and Stephen and his Dad decide to risk it all to save the lives of two strangers, Stephen's life is turned upside down. With his father terribly injured, Stephen is left alone to make his own choices for the first time.
Stephen’s choices lead him to Settler's Landing, a lost slice of the Pre-Collapse world where he encounters a seemingly benign world of barbecues, baseball games and days spent in a one-room schoolhouse. Distrustful of such tranquility, Stephen quickly falls in with Jenny Tan, the beautiful town outcast. As his relationship with Jenny grows it brings him into violent conflict with the leaders of Settler's Landing who are determined to remake the world they grew up in, no matter what the cost.

I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about this book. I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t really get into it, even though the action was constantly moving the story forward and there was lots of tension, plus many obstacles for Stephen to overcome. But I found myself not really caring about the story or the characters. I think that’s because much of what’s in this book has been done before in various venues, and it didn’t really contain any unique twists.

For example, America has been ravaged by a plague and much of the population didn’t survive. As a result, the government has collapsed and society as a whole doesn’t exist. It’s anarchy, weak vs. strong, survival of the fittest, etc. This concept has been the backdrop for many stories, and yet there is often something unique about each story. In Eleventh Plague, Stephen stumbles into a pocket of the world (Settler’s Landing) that’s close to how it was pre-Collapse. So, yeah, I guess it’s unique, except it pretty much takes us back to the present day, and that’s not where I want to be when I’m reading a dystopian novel.

Once we get fully entrenched in Settler’s Landing, there isn’t anything really unique here. The villains, Caleb and his son Will Henry, are basically large bullies with lots of influence, a huge sense of entitlement, and seem to enjoy inflicting pain on others. They’re not the kind of villains I love to hate—I prefer the calculating ones skilled in manipulation. Or, at the very least, they have an unshakable belief that what they’re doing is for the good of those around them. I didn’t get a sense of either in Caleb or Will Henry, so I never really got into them as antagonists.

The love interest is Jenny Tan, an outcast in the community because of her ethnic background. When she’s first introduced, I felt some sympathy for her situation and was looking forward to seeing how her story was going to intersect with Stephen’s. But as we find out more about her, we discover that she has created much of the discord between her and the rest of Settler’s Landing. I ceased to like her at this point. There is a moment where she understands this, and she does grow as a result, but the damage was done and I wasn’t invested in her enough to care.

I know all this sounds like I hated the book, but I didn’t. It was an okay read. I just couldn’t seem to connect on any level.


Kelly Hashway said...

I've never heard of this book, but to be honest, it doesn't sound like my kind of read, so that may be why. Nice review, Tabitha. Honest and informative.

Christina Farley said...

I bought it and plan on reading it soon. Hubby read it and thought it was good. I'm looking forward to reading it.

D.E. Malone said...

My son brought this home from his school's library last week. I was hooked reading the first two pages. Great review!