Nora Roberts has done it all: contemporary romance, historical romance, crime romance, holiday romance, and magical romance. But in her newest book, Year One, she begins a trilogy in a new, admittedly intimidating genre: dystopian sci-fi.
What begins as an innocent virus during the holiday season quickly explodes in a mushroom cloud of a pandemic, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives within weeks. Known only as The Doom, its reach is global and its might is unbeatable by any known medicine; soon, all structure of civilization has fallen to the disease, including—and perhaps most importantly—news organizations, and the government. After all, the world cannot be led if all of its leaders have succumbed to the Doom, too. Soon, the death toll reaches millions—that is, if the limited news the living are able to receive is to be trusted. Some say the its billions.
The human race may be defeated, but we soon learn it is not done completely. A group of survivors ventures out into the unknown to try and find out what remains of the world they once thought was so safe: a chef, a writer, a doctor, a paramedic, two journalists, a hacker…and a mother of twins, the sole surviving family member of the first person to contract the disease. Different people from different walks of life, all with one incredible thing in common: they survived the Doom…and possess magical powers as a result.
Roberts is at the top of her suspense game in the opening chapters of the novel, which are eerily prescient and hopefully not portentous. But the real meat of the story begins not in the beginning, but in the aftermath of the crisis. Humanity is as humanity does; Roberts does an extraordinary job of highlighting the ways that we will always seek to form communities and connections, even in the face of grave isolation and danger. There is certainly both in this new world: the survivors and their abilities are embraced by some and reviled by others, to the point where they are blamed for the crisis which has unfolded and, in the case of everyone we meet, consumed someone they loved. The factions split even further among the magical; tensions rise between those who just want to find a way to survive, and those who allow their abilities to release their darker impulses in search of greater power.
That’s one of the unique things about this powerful, engaging novel: there is no “big bad” as there often is in other Nora Roberts classics: no ex-lover from the past coming back for revenge, no crooked businessman trying to put a family’s legacy into the ground…there is evil and darkness for sure, in the forms of the prejudiced, and of the power-hungry…and of course, of The Doom itself. But the evil our heroes and heroines must combat is the evil we see every day when we look into the mirror. When we let down our fellow humans by being selfish, or afraid: It’s us.
Of course, the greater mystery of The Doom’s origins, and its impact on the powers of the survivors, looms large over the story. But since this is a trilogy, expect no easy answers or resolutions. Instead, in another move not typical of Roberts, expect every happy moment to be tinged with sadness, each revelation followed by more questions, and the joy of new life echoed by the tragedy of death.
Year One is on B&N bookshelves now.