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Year One by Nora Roberts

BOTTOM LINE: SO not a typical Nora Roberts novel but I LOVED it

Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: 5 December 2017
Source: Mine. All mine.

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“It began on New Year’s Eve.

The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.

Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.

As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.

In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.

The end has come. The beginning comes next.”

My Thoughts: When you are popular as Nora Roberts, there is not much incentive to stray from what made you successful. After all, when you release several novels in one year, all to great fanfare and sales, something must be working. For Ms. Roberts, that something has made her one of the most successful novelists of all time. Yet with Year One, she not only throws her story formulas out the window, she stomps them into pieces, then burns them to ashes, and then goes on to write one of the more compelling and infinitely darker stories she has ever produced.

Since Year One has elements of the supernatural in it and is the first in a trilogy, it would be all too easy to assume that we are going to get three pairs of romantic pairings, each person with a key role or power that will help them defeat the big baddie. We assume this because we have seen this in every one of her supernatural trilogies, and each time it works so well. Except this time, we get none of it. There are no romantic pairings. There are no real groups, and any that form are quickly torn asunder for various reasons. Only two of the main characters have any sort of power. What’s more, there is no safe outcome for the heroes. In fact, book one ends with no resolution and honestly very little hope that the good guys will win in the end. It is all a bit disconcerting for Nora fans.

For all this strangeness in a Nora novel though, what is there is so raw and so dark that it is like we are experiencing a brand-new author. While her characters are still as lively and as honest as ever, there is less focus on appearances and more on their intrinsic qualities. There is less worry about romance and more worry about survival. There is less forming of a cohesive unit and a whole lot more running scared. Plus, the evil is at a whole other level. Sure, we have faced wrathful gods and goddesses, witches and wizards, and every other form of baddie in her novels, but this unexplained evil that can reside in the ones we love most are the truly shocking. She holds nothing back in her baddies in Year One, and the story is better for it.

Neither does she hold back the gore. There are some seriously disturbing scenes throughout the novel that are just so unlike her that it is difficult to believe this is by the same person who writes about nature, horses, and dogs as if she were able to commune with them all. The scenes are sickening not only in their brutal depiction of bodily damage but also in the underlying story for they do more to explain the chaos of the world during the plague than any other scene in the novel. Without them, we lose not only the intensity of the story but also a large piece of the picture still forming.

As mentioned earlier, there is no pat resolution at the end of this first novel. There are few answers and a lot more questions at the story’s end. While this should be annoying, I find it strangely compelling. There is no cliffhanger demanding an immediate answer. Instead, there is a quiet insistence to wait and see how the rest of the story unfolds. Moreover, one gets the distinct impression that the rest of the story is going to be a bumpy ride with no character safe and plenty more shocking developments to come that will further confound Nora purists but which will enrich the story so much more thoroughly.

I love the fact that Ms. Roberts broke her mold wide open. I am even more impressed that she is not afraid to take a major chance with her latest story. She is so successful at what she writes that to deviate from that tried-and-true formula is quite a risk, yet she took that risk and, in my opinion, succeeds in so doing. It is not hyperbole to say that Year One is unlike anything else she has written to date, and it is because of these risks that she succeeds. The story fits with the general mood of the country and the tension that permeates society these days. It is gritty and raw, and I love it. I can only hope that Ms. Roberts continues to play with her craft because Year One shows her talent knows no bounds.

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