Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Big Reveal, or Not

There are two kinds of people who watch movies or read books like The Sixth Sense or Fight Club which rely on big secrets for their intrigue. There are those who like to figure out what the big surprise of the story is going to be before it gets revealed and those who like to wait to be surprised by the story when it reveals its secrets in its own time. (Among movie-goers, there is a subset of the first kind who likes to blurt out the surprise midway through the movie, spoiling the fun for everyone within earshot. These people are called "jerks." I confess to being a recovering jerk.)

The story in Scott Sigler's new book, Alive, is one which relies heavily on big secrets and big reveals. Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil any of them. But if you are the first type of reader, don't expect to be challenged by these secrets, and if you are the second type, be careful not to think too hard or you will spoil things for yourself. In other words, for as much as the story makes of them, some of its secrets are a little bit obvious.

Nonetheless, the story is still intriguing. A girl wakes up on her twelfth birthday to find herself trapped, alive, within a coffin. Something is biting her in the neck. Panicking (wouldn't you?) she fights off whatever is attacking her and forces her way out of the coffin to find herself in a room full of coffins a few of which contain other twelve-year-olds who have been similarly confined. Except they are not actually twelve--they have the bodies of adults in their twenties--and none of them can remember anything about their previous lives or how they got in the coffins. They wouldn't even know their names except that their coffins are helpfully labeled. Our protagonist is M. Savage. Uncomfortable with the implications of being called "Savage," she sticks with the first initial and calls herself "Em."

Em gets elected leader of this group--somewhat arbitrarily, she thinks--and has to guide them from what seems to be an underground chamber or ritualistic tomb--it's walls are covered with hieroglyphics and glowing gems. The nature of their location and their origins and their past is all part of a puzzle these kids need to solve in order to survive.

Sigler sets himself up with a daunting task. In most stories the early chapters are about getting to know the characters, their pasts, who their friends and enemies are, what they like or dislike, etc. But with characters who lack pasts or even preferences, Sigler can't do that, so the opening couple of chapters are weird and disorienting, written like the set up of a riddle. Sigler's spare style adds to the effect. But in time he works through this and as Em discovers a little bit about herself and all those around her Alive settles into a more traditional narrative. As they get to know Em, readers will grow attached to her and root for her and her friends.

Alive is the first of a series--the Generations trilogy--and it's rather violent, both par for the course in today's YA SFF.

The publisher provided me with a time-limited eBook galley for the purposes of this review.


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1 comment:

Scott Sigler said...

Sounds like you enjoyed the read (and thanks for not being a "jerk" in this review).