3 out of 5 stars.
In my last book review, Commune, Book One by Joshua Gayou, I mentioned that I don’t read a lot of post-apocalypse fiction. But with The First City, here I am having read two in a row, so I guess I may need to re-assess my reading habits. At any rate, this does present a unique opportunity to compare and contrast two books from the same genre, while they are still fresh in my mind.
I had read the first installment of the Dominion Trilogy, The Last Girl, over a year ago, when it was offered as a Kindle First selection. Looking back at my review of the first book in this series, I had summed it up thusly: “Despite the things that sort of nagged me the whole way through, the story did keep me turning the pages, and left me intrigued enough that I’m looking forward to the continuation of the series.” Now, at its conclusion, I still take issue with those nagging points, plus several more. However, I did enjoy the saga despite its flaws, and leave it feeling satisfied.
The series is based on an interesting take on the apocalyptic theme: that suddenly humans are only giving birth to males, turning the remaining females into a commodity to be fought over, used, and abused. Though this take on the theme does precipitate out into the classic “good versus evil” struggle, there are some twists and revelations that keep the material fresh. One of the interesting twists that this presents on the apocalyptic theme is that society is dying a slow death (due to the lack of reproduction of females) rather than a sudden, climactic event. The events in the series take place years, or decades, after the beginning of the “dearth”, so we see Joe Hart’s vision of society after it has already been in decline for quite a while
Zoey, the protagonist, is an interesting character. From the beginning of the series, my take on her has been that she’s much too worldly and tough, to believe she is the product of a sheltered (if abused) upbringing in an enclosed, restrictive panopticon. That complaint still holds true, for me, through the second and this, the third and final book in the series. But despite that somewhat nagging flaw, the story remains engaging.
The story serves as both a thriller and a deeper study of human character. Joe Hart paints a picture of human nature that, for most, devolves into its basest and most depraved qualities when faced with the finality of cavitation’s demise. Hope for humanity is presented in the form of Zoey, who, we find out at the end of the second book, is the “keystone” for unlocking the mystery of the dearth of female births. Indeed she is presented with the knowledge that a female baby has been born from her own eggs. The rest of the story focuses on her quest (with the help of her companions) to find and rescue her baby, while also saving humanity from its impending doom.
That sounds like a tall order. The reader will find it a fun ride following Zoey and her companions on that quest. There are some twists along the way to keep things interesting, and ultimately all of the various story lines and loose ends are tied up in a satisfying conclusion.
I wish Joe Hart had stopped there. There is a long, drawn out set of final chapters, plus an epilogue, that are tacked on after the final climax like dead weight. Some of it gets a bit preachy and annoying, but some readers may find value in the extensive “aftermath” information.
Throughout the book the action is frequently slowed down by long, deep thoughts and conversations about characters’ backgrounds, thought ruminations, etc. These can get a bit tedious when you just want to know what happens next. But I understand the author’s intent to present some philosophical underpinnings along with just telling the story.
Overall, I thought this book was slightly weaker than the second installment of the series, which for me was the best of the three. But as I said it did bring the story to a satisfying, if rambling, conclusion.
Finally, a note on the audio book. I’d read about half of this book before leaving for a long road trip. So I bought the audio version on Audible in order to pass the time on the road. I see no place on Amazon to critique the audio performance independent of the book itself, so I’ll append it to this review. In short, found the narrator to be quite annoying. Her performance of the material was way too dramatized. I found that she got into a rhythm of overly annunciating and dramatizing certain words in EVERY sentence, regardless of how insignificant the sentence or passage was. I understand that its supposed to be a performance, not just a simple reading, but for me, the performance in this case subtracted from my enjoyment of the material. She used a deeper voice for the male characters, but the “good guys” came out sounding the same as the “bad guys”. And her characterization of Zoey was completely wrong. She portrayed her in a whiney, young girl voice, that seemed like every little situation scared her out of her wits. That was complete opposite of the tough girl I had been envisioning in my mind through two and a half books. I would have given the audiobook performance two stars, but I’m not letting that affect the star rating I’m giving the book itself
If you are an indie or self-published author and are interested in having me read and review your book, drop me a note with a link to your eBook listing on Amazon. If it looks interesting, I may add it to my “to read” list. I typically post my reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. I do not ask for free copies in exchange for a review. If it looks like something I might enjoy, I will gladly pay for it myself.