Series: Gone #4
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on 5th April 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Young Adult
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It’s been eight months since all the adults disappeared. Gone.
They’ve survived hunger. They’ve survived lies. But the stakes keep rising, and the horror keeps building. Yet, despite the simmering unrest left behind by so many battles, power struggles, and angry divides, there is a momentary calm in Perdido Beach.
But enemies in the FAYZ don’t just fade away. In the quiet, deadly things are stirring. The Darkness has found its way into the mind of its Nemesis at last and is controlling it through a haze of delirium and confusion. A highly contagious, fatal illness spreads at an alarming rate. Sinister, predatory insects terrorize the town. And Sam, Astrid, Diana and Caine are plagued by a growing doubt that they’ll escape – or even survive – life in the FAYZ. With so much turmoil surrounding them, what desperate choices will they make when it comes to saving themselves and those they love?
The general consensus seems to be that Plague is a superior sequel to Lies, which many fans see as the weakest installment in Michael Grant’s series thus far. I read both with this in mind, under the assumption that my opinion would end up being similar, if not identical.
And, wouldn’t you know it? I ended up loving the latter more than the former. Go figure.
To be honest, I feel that this series may have peaked with Lies. While Plague is an excellent follow-up, it feels more like a maintainer than an innovator, keeping the quality of the story steady instead of enhancing it. Rather than significantly improving upon the aspects of its predecessors, as the last two books have done, this installment keeps the status quo.
Now, I’m not saying that Plague is a mediocre book, much less an outright poor one. It’s a fantastic installment, to be sure, and I enjoyed it immensely. I’m simply saying that my expectations for this one may have been a bit too high. I approached Lies expecting a lackluster story, and so I was blown away when it ended up being really, really good. Subsequently, I approached Plague expecting an amazing installment that would somehow be an improvement over all past efforts, and so I was left a bit disappointed when it ended up being great, but not better, as many fans claim it to be. If I hadn’t perused others’ reviews of the sequels prior to devouring them myself, I wouldn’t have read this book with several preconceived notions. Notions that ultimately tainted my reading experience. I do apologize for being unfair, Plague, but what’s done is done. I do hope that you can one day forgive me.
But enough apologizing. Let’s review.
1. Once again, Grant manages to make the story even darker than those of previous installments. This book is incredibly violent, and contains some shockingly disturbing scenes. The mature and uncompromising nature of the storytelling in this series is one of its largest strengths, and the author’s dedication to outdoing himself with every new release is a very good thing. What’s important is that he never takes things too far. Grant repeatedly proves himself capable of pushing boundaries with thoughtfulness and precision. He does so with enough force to keep things exciting, but not so much that he crosses some unacceptable line. His ideas, while dark and gritty, never seem tasteless or vulgar, and instead feel like an organic and natural part of the worldbuilding and story.
2. Incredibly, consistency is present throughout the entire novel. I’m flabbergasted by this. I was convinced that discontinuity was going to be an ongoing problem for the entirety of the series, and yet Plague, as far as I can tell, has none. I’m absolutely delighted by this, and I’m tempted to give this book that final star just because of it. Granted, I was still forced to occasionally reread passages in order to check various details, but, for once, these instances unfailingly worked out in the end.
1. Now, from the beginning, I’ve enjoyed the treatment of religion throughout the series. It’s an inevitable topic to bring up, and what I found refreshing was the fact that the subject was not incessantly mocked or criticized – something that would have been very easy to do, considering the age of the cast and the hardships that they are forced to endure. Having characters who maintain some sort of faith in a realistic way (in other words, not being so narrow-minded and overzealous that their beliefs completely dominate their personalities and turn them into insufferable bigots) is an inclusion that I have deeply appreciated.
Sure, several atheistic characters, at one point or another, have disapproved of others’ beliefs. And that’s wonderful, because such occurrences are completely understandable and add a very interesting (and realistic) dynamic to these kids’ interactions. It certainly isn’t wrong to criticize religion. We are all entitled to our opinions, and it’s not as though the institutions of belief are without fault. What has worked so well is the fact that Grant initially maintained a balance between the two viewpoints.
This, unfortunately, begins to change when Brittney is introduced as a central figure in Lies. Now, given her situation, I suppose that her fanatical mindset is not entirely unrealistic. Heck, it may even be appropriate. Nevertheless, her overzealous attitude grows tiresome very quickly, turning what had initially been a fair look at religion into a cliché. Where’s the subtlety here? Brittney’s attitude in Hunger was a much more realistic portrayal of a religious youth. With every subsequent installment, however, she grows ever more one-dimensional, and this is most evident in Plague. The plot development that has her outright believing that the gaiaphage is God is ludicrous and borders on the offensive, as it effectively turns Brittney’s belief into a negative and undesirable thing. How could a person who is so sure in her faith undergo a complete reversal and become enraptured with a being that is so obviously not the God that she has always believed in? The gaiaphage may as well be the antithesis of the power that she has always followed, and yet she suddenly decides to devote herself to him. Madness is certainly a factor here (Brittany hasn’t exactly had the easiest time in the FAYZ), but it feels so very unnecessary regardless.
My other problem in this regard is the fact that nearly every character with some kind of belief in a higher power essentially renounces their respective views by the book’s end. Now, I don’t blame them in the least for becoming angry and doubtful. It’s a perfectly natural thing to do when confronted with overwhelming pain and loss. I would certainly have some harsh words for God if I was put into this kind of situation. But the fact that everyone seems to completely give up all belief is simply depressing, more so because it seems to happen all at once. I’m unsure what Grant is trying to tell us here, if anything. Is he saying that religious belief is a pointless thing to have, as it causes only problems and hurt? I’d like to think not, but it’s hard to say at this point. I just hope that the rest of the series brings back the balance of the first few installments.
I’m sure many of you will disagree with me on this particular issue, but I want to make it clear that I’m not attempting to force religion down anyone’s throats, whether they be fictional or not. And, yes, I’m certainly biased, as I consider myself religious. The point that I’m trying to make is that I found the subject handled with a care and respect that is usually lacking in YA works at the onset of this series, and, while it’s a realistic step considering the story thus far, it’s something that I miss.
2. While they are an interesting, and gruesome, addition to the story, the antagonistic insects that play a crucial role this time around feel lacking. I love some of their characteristics, such as the fact that they are born through host bodies that they subsequently consume (Isn’t that just fantastically disturbing?), but, ultimately, too much is left unexplained by the novel’s end. Where do they come from? How are the greenies involved? How did the gaiaphage gain control over them? It feels as though Grant simply forgot to properly explain his creations, and this leaves them a tad too underdeveloped.
The other issue that I took with the bugs is the fact that they feel a bit too over-the-top in their design. Nothing in this series is exactly realistic or subtle, yet certain aspects of the bugs, such as their enormous size and incredible strength, feel heavy-handed and slightly ridiculous. It’s hard to pinpoint, to be sure. There’s just something about them that doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the worldbuilding.
3. While the story as a whole is enthralling, it suffers from repetition in certain plot elements. The most notable example is the fact that, once again, Sam is conveniently out of town when danger strikes Perdido Beach. This seems to happen in every installment. It’s as though Grant figures that getting Sam immediately involved would result in a resolution that is too easy and too quickly brought about, and so he repeatedly finds reasons to get him out of the way in order to avoid this. Now, the explanations for Sam’s absences are believable, so I can generally ignore this adherence to a template, but it’s still gotten a bit frustrating at this point.
This book manages to maintain the level of quality that its predecessor achieved, and that’s the problem. Lies is wonderful because it’s noticeably better than the works before it. Plague essentially proves that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, but it does mean that this installment lacks a bit of the punch that the last few installments have contained.
The Score So Far
1. Lies (5 stars)
2. Plague (4 1/2 stars)
3. Hunger (4 stars)
4. Gone (3 1/2 stars)