A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother’s life—and her own.
Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she’s helpless to change anything.
Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.
The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can’t trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?
It’s no real secret that I wasn’t a fan of The Collector. While I thought the book had one or two decent ideas, anything good was counter-balanced by the fact that I hated the protagonist. My dislike of him was so strong that I wondered if that was coloring the way I was viewing the rest of the book and I wanted to give the author a second chance.
And so I did, by giving this new series a look.
Sadly, it was not enough to sway me.
I’ll state the obvious here: this is clearly inspired by The Hunger Games. The author does mix it up a bit – every contestant gets a Pandora (an animal companion) bred to help them survive the contest and most of the contestants aren’t actively out trying to kill each other, but the bones are still pretty plainly obvious and this book just can’t live up to what is quickly becoming a seminal series in YA fiction. And there are a couple of reasons for this:
First, Tella is no Katniss Everdeen. She is almost the anti-Katniss. In her own words:
“How stupid could I have been? I left without telling my family where I was going, got on a train to a city that doesn’t exist, and swallowed a foreign object.”
Don’t forget that she seriously considered packing a bottle of nail polish for this trek, or that she didn’t think to demand of her parents to know what was up since clearly they knew. She ran into this blind, and then later gets pissed at the anonymous “they” who are “doing this to her” even though she essentially volunteered herself for a race that she knew nothing about. I had a conversation with another blogger about Tella, and the blogger appreciated Tella’s shallowness as a “flaw.” It is a flaw, but it isn’t an interesting one. It’s one that makes me question her sanity when, a solid week into the race when everyone has been traipsing through the jungle and are filthy and probably reeking of body odor, that she is so jealous of another Contender’s beauty that she “could be friends…if I weren’t so overwhelmed with the urge to end her.” Are her priorities that mixed up? While I don’t out and out hate her the way I did Dante, I find this flaw makes me hard to sympathize with her. She does grow stronger through the book, and I do find that her growth is believable in a way that Dante’s wasn’t, I still just wasn’t able to connect with her. Maybe it’s because this entire situation was avoidable. She didn’t have to do this. Had she known what she was getting into and then volunteered herself it’d packed more punch because it really would have felt like a genuine sacrifice and not just the move of a stubborn and defiant teenager – which is exactly what her actions were.
The other major problem is the world building, or lack there of. We get no sense of time, nor place, nor society that we live in. The answers to the most basic questions about this race are quite given pages from the end of this first book. The set up is better than some set-ups (like say, the Maze Runner) but still decidedly lacks the punch of something like Hunger Games.
Finally, the ending is a bit abrupt because they clearly wanted to make this at least two books. I’m still not a fan of this practice and if it bothers you as much as it can me, it may be another strike against the book. It does at least end in a logical spot, so it doesn’t feel completely abrupt.
If I’m honest with myself, a lot of the issues I have with this book were also present in The Collector. It’s just that I can see them more clearly because I don’t have a target for my dislike. At this point, I have to call it like it is: Victoria Scott is not the author for me. The lackluster world building and teenage to the nth degree teenagers make it too difficult for me to get invested in her stories.
Verdict: Again, as with The Collector, diehard fans of Hunger Games-type books might enjoy this one, but most can probably safely Skip It.
Available: February 25th