Review: Alive by Scott Sigler

Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

3 out of 5 shaky stars

I am not giving this 3 stars because I didn’t like it. I am giving it 3 stars because I liked it… but I didn’t love it. And it wasn’t really that original and in the end, there was too much left unexplained.

I wanna start by saying that for the first time ever, I read an author’s note that kinda burned my britches. I’ve never read a note where the author asked me (yes, me, dear reader) not to spoil it for other people. I find that a little insulting, to be honest. I also think it’s a ploy – a fear that this book is so weak that the only way to get someone to read it is through the mystery. I was intrigued by the very well crafted blurb, and that is always the intention for a blurb. When the blurb is vague, and you are urged not to reveal things about the plot, it smells very much like a ploy to drum up buzz or “hype” as they say in the YA community. Now, I would not post spoilers to ruin the experience for anyone, author’s note or no. Even before I read that note I was thinking about the other series that this is like – and was thinking that I can’t tell you about it or it will spoil it, because it will make it so obvious what this is about. Which again, makes me think this is a weak book – it doesn’t stand on its own and it really needs not-telling-the-reader-what-is-going-on to work. It mentions three hot-selling dystopian trilogies in the blurb, but the one I am thinking of is not listed. Also, the one I’m thinking of is not dystopian. I don’t think this is really a dystopian either. But that might be a spoiler!

I’m sure you read the blurb yourself – basically, girl wakes up in a strange room in a coffin-like structure in clothes that don’t quite fit, doesn’t know who – or where – she is. Her coffin is marked “M Savage” so she calls herself Em. But she’s not alone! There are other kids in the room with her. To keep everybody separate, they all call themselves by their last names, so clearly we know Em must have that special something that makes her a main character. She quickly emerges as the leader, because she is special, and they go off to conquer the odd place they are in, discover its mysteries and survive! And that’s really all you can say and not give anything away.

My main complaint is twofold: I couldn’t keep all the characters straight and by the end of the book, I did not get explanations of one of the mysteries. One of the main things about the kids is that they all have a symbol on their forehead. At first, it seems like all those with the same symbol will have something huge in common. But the way we are introduced to everyone, I couldn’t keep straight who had what symbol. The one standout are the kids called “circle stars” who are clearly warriors. They become the muscle and sometimes a danger to our main character. These are never really explained, and in a way it pisses me off, because you know that somehow it will be explained in the next book. This is the first of a trilogy.

Like I said, I could only keep a few of the characters straight. I think the author felt the same way I did, because he even had a set of twins who shared the same name (remember, everyone goes by last names) so, you know, why differentiate? Besides Em, there are two boys that could be a love interest. O’Malley is the hot boy. That’s pretty much his thing. Well, he talks people out of fighting and is often the voice of reason, but mostly you realize he’s really hot. Em notices that a lot. Even when there are people bleeding and dying. This guy is really hot. Bishop is more of a friend, but he and Em seem to have an understanding. But… they don’t have the same symbol. I mean, what is with the freaking symbols? Bishop is one of the warriors. There are two jerks that sort of blend into one. One is just a jerk, on a professional level, the other is a religious nut. I kept getting them confused. Another girl is amazingly gorgeous Spin-something (I don’t remember her name  and I just finished the book a half hour ago) is very smart. And very gorgeous. Why does everyone have to be so fucking gorgeous? The one guy I really liked was Gaston. He had a smart mouth to go with his smart brain, and he seemed to remain consistent.

What I did like – the plot. I thought it was clever. A lot was improbable (but so are the Marvell movies and their attempts at science) and like I complained about, not fully explained, but there was a lot of action, no lagging, and I enjoyed both the survival aspect and the unravelling of the mystery.The mystery was good but like I said, not original. I think you have to be someone who enjoys the closed-door mystery to go for this. It’s not a crime novel, it’s a survival story, really, but if you are someone who reads sci fi and fantasy that enjoys a story that is vague and mysterious, you will like this. I also think readers on the younger side of the YA spectrum would like it. That is no insult, it’s just that they haven’t read a huge number of books and are a little easier to please. It also has some good themes around leadership, friendship and what those things are, what they entail and what they cost. I read this as a library ebook, and I think if I can get the following books from the library, I will continue with the series, but I would not pay full dollar price for it. I just have too many wonderful series I follow to spend money on what started as a 3 star series.

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