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Nine by Zach Hines

BOTTOM LINE: Disappointing

Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian
Publication Date: 7 August 2018
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“In an alternate world startlingly close to our own, humans have nine lives—and they can’t wait to use them up.

The government has death incentives aimed at controlling overpopulation. As you shed lives, you shed your awkward phases: one death is equal to one physical and mental upgrade.

Julian’s friends are obsessed with the idea of burning, but Julian is determined to stay on his first life for as long as he can. His mother burned too fast and inflicted a debilitating rebirth sickness on herself.

Julian realizes that he’s going to have to burn at some point—especially when he becomes a target for Nicholas, the manipulative leader of the Burners, the school’s suicide club. And when Julian eventually succumbs, he uncovers suspicious gaps in the rebirth system that may explain exactly why his mother went so far down the rabbit hole years ago.

Along with a group of student dissenters, Julian sets out to find answers and is soon on the verge of exposing the greatest conspiracy ever unleashed on the world.”

My Thoughts: I am a sucker for an exciting David and Goliath story involving a futuristic society, so I started Zach Hines’ novel with high hopes. Unfortunately, Nine is one of those books that should be good based on its premise but the execution of which leaves a lot to be desired. On paper, it sounds like an exciting sci-fi conspiracy thriller in which students once again pit themselves against the big bad government. The idea of having nine lives is intriguing, creating a long list of possibilities on how the extra lives might come into play within the story. Sadly, there is very little about the novel that lives up to my expectations.

The main problem with the novel is the lack of world-building throughout the story. While the synopsis says that this alternate world is “startlingly close to our own,” it is close in superficial ways. Critical areas of any society, like politics, economics, population size, the larger world beyond the reaches of the pages, remain frustratingly nebulous. Readers receive no history of this alternate world. We have no idea how anyone discovered that the nine lives existed, and this lack of historical perspective raises one too many questions which end up being rather important to the story. Were the Lakes, which are vital for the rebirth process, always in the same location? Who created the first death incentives and what was their reasoning for the ages of mandatory burns? What about the rest of the world? Did these Lakes pop up all over the Earth? Are the Lakes the only way to experience rebirth?

Instead of answers, readers must pick up clues within the narrative. These clues do not provide any historical context, but we do know that essential resources like food are dwindling as people continue to live longer. We find out that Burners have been a favorite, unsanctioned school club for generations. We learn that the divide between the haves and the have-nots remains substantial, with the government using a family’s total number of burns to incentivize families into shortening their life spans. This information is vital to understanding the conspiracy, but given the nature of the conspiracy, the lack of historical context leaves a large hole in the plot. There are too many questions and too few answers to satisfy the story’s resolution.

Another area of weakness within Nine is the characters. All of the characters fail to develop in a manner that feels authentic. In fact, they remain little more than one-dimensional archetypes. The cast is quite large by the end of the story with a convoluted generational connection that compounds any reader confusion, and none of them evolve beyond caricatures of students and adult authority figures in a dystopian world. The lack of character depth hinders a reader’s connection to the characters and immersion into the story.

Poor character development and a complete lack of historical background make Nine unsatisfying. I never overcame the thought that with a little historical perspective, so much of Julian’s world would make more sense, and with an improved understanding of this particular fictional world, I would have a better appreciation for Julian and everything he suffers at the hands of the Burners and the government. Instead, readers must spend too much time trying to put together a puzzle with one too many missing pieces, and the gaps are just too large to overcome.

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