The invasion has begun—and a group of teens are caught in the crossfire.
I volunteered to be a spy, not an assassin.
I know this is war . . .
but I just want to do what’s right.
If you ask me, none of us should be here—but no one gave me a choice.
And I won’t blindly follow orders.
I am essential to the plan.
And I will be a hero for my country.
If I were normal, I wouldn’t be
old enough to join the army.
But I’m not normal. I’m a weapon.
We’re a perfect match—
on and off the battlefield.
I hope that means we’ll both survive.
Title: Dead Zone
Author: Robison Wells
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller/Action Adventure
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 373 pages
Series or Standalone: Blackout #2
Themes: Following Orders, Greater Good
POV: Multiple 3rd person
Where I Got It: Thanks to Atsiko for finding a trove of 2014 ARCs. We’ve both spent time listening to Brandon Sanderson’s Podcast, Writing Excuses, on which Wells was often a guest, so we were very excited to have someone reviewing this book. For scheduling reasons, that someone ended up being me.
This was a difficult review to write. I knew about a third of the way through this would not be a favorite of mine. I like the premise. Superpowers, especially limited and diverse superpowers, are inherently a fun idea for me. But, because I enjoy the idea so much, I might be more inclined to a tough rubric. There have been several well-known books/multi-media franchises based on the concept of large numbers of people with starkly varying super-powers. X-Men is probably the most famous. The TV show Heroes also achieved a good deal of success with this premise. Going further afield, there have been several anime and manga series using a similar idea: Gakuen Alice, and more recently Tokyo ESP. None of these stories are perfect. And neither is Dead Zone.
One of the major issues I had with the book was the characters. They were, to my mind, very cliche representations of teenagers. The character voices and their behavior didn’t feel natural to me in many scenes of the book. The supporting characters were more complex than the main characters, while being more cliche stereotypes. The main characters, while less cliche, were also much less complex, and I had trouble buying some of their emotional quandaries. You’re going to have a certain amount of apparent cliche in any YA book, just because your average teenager has fairly similar experiences to their peers, and also because of media stereotypes popularized by well-known television shows and movies. It can be very hard to break out of those narratives, especially for older authors who may be more distant from their teenage selves.
The plot of Dead Zone was also a fairly standard war plot. I felt like I saw quite a few of the plot twists coming. They followed a common pattern.
To be fair to Wells, I can definitely see why a publisher picked this up. It’s got that high concept and breakneck pace that makes thrillers so popular. The problem-solving ability of the main characters was great fun to see in action, and he created that sense of righteous indignation at the way the characters were co-opted by various groups that can lead to a strong emotional investment even in weakly-drawn characters.
I haven’t read Variant, or any of the books in that series, so I can’t say how Dead Zone stacks up. It is an improvement on Blackout, so readers who enjoyed the first book in the series will likely enjoy this one. I personally wouldn’t have bought this book after reading Blackout. I don’t mind the few hours it took to read it, but I think I would have minded the money I’d have had to spend to buy it.
Conclusion: 66/100 (Readable, but not compulsively so)
Premise: 6/10 (Done before, sometimes better)
Plot: 7/10 (Cliche)
Setting: 7/10 (Decently-drawn)
Main Character: 7/10 (Nothing special, but nothing terrible)
SF Elements 6/10 (Cliche)
Mutant powers 7/10 (Cliche, but well-used)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Cliche)
Writing: 3/15 (Competent, but no more)
Voice: 2/5 (Not great)
Themes: 7/10 (Common and mediocre execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Cliche)
Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you like super hero stories, otherwise borrowing might be the best option.
Very similar to the X-Men franchise and also the TV show Heroes. Your standard kids with superheroes story.