Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Length: 368 pages
Source: Gifted ARC
As a lethal plague sweeps through the land, Ani Mells is shocked when she is unexpectedly captured by the governor's wardens and forced to submit to a test for the deadly Scourge. She is even more surprised when the test results come back positive, and she is sent to Attic Island, a former prison turned refuge -- and quarantine colony -- for the ill.
The Scourge's victims, Ani now among them, can only expect to live out short, painful lives there. However, Ani quickly discovers that she doesn't know the whole truth about the Scourge or the Colony. She's been caught in a devious plot, and, with the help of her best friend, Weevil, Ani means to uncover just what is actually going on.
But will she and Weevil survive long enough to do so?
Protagonist: Ani lives in river country with her family and a whole host of others. With no real motivation other than cultural differences she and the other River People are ostracized by the townsfolk and treated as second class citizens. So it's no surprise when Ani finds herself harassed by the governor's wardens, but being captured and tested for the newly resurfaced plague known as the Scourge is a shock she doesn't quite understand. Once she finds out she has it and she and her best friend are shipped off the the quarantined Attic Island the discover more than an island of sick folks. I really like Ani, she has a hard time staying out of trouble and stands up for what she believes regardless of the consequences. She's not perfect, like everyone she has her flaws but works overcome them over the course of this book. She's a strong character and for the amount of injustice flung upon her she's going to need all the strength she can get.
World-Building: Jennifer Nielsen always does a great job with world building, especially for a Middle Grade title it's hard to find the line between too much and not enough. Everything in this book is so well described and even though the majority takes place on an island that used to be a prison, we still learn more about the world outside. There are flashbacks and key pieces of exposition from other characters that let us know more about other countries, small influences of political intrigue, and the country of Keldan itself. Before I get into my oncoming rant/explanation I do want to address that for those who enjoy them, there is a bit of a romance in this book. It's not really a real subplot but it is there. I've seen a growing trend with some books where it seems authors will pick on their main characters in the form of one or multiple seemingly completely evil individuals who take it as their God given responsibility to make the life of our protagonist the worst it can be. This usually results in a game so rigged against our hero that it seems nigh impossible to win. While I don't have a problem with adversity for our hero, I do have to admit, sometimes as is with the case of this book it can seem a bit too cruel at first, but as aggravating as it is watching the deck get stacked against our hero, if they come through to the other side in a realistic way, the rush is totally worth the torture.
Predictability: I don't know how many times I've said it before, but I'll say it again; Jennifer A. Nielsen is the queen of twists. That's not to say that there aren't predictable twists, but for the most part this author always does a fantastic job of having just enough foreshadowing here, a good re herring here, and viola! A twist that's not only hard to see coming, but that looking back makes total sense. As I said before there are fairly big things that were predictable, but never in the way I expected. Most of the time the most expected thing would occur in the most unexpected way.
Ending: As this book headed into it's final chapters I could see that while this book would wrap up all in one book, that if the author wanted there could be more books in this world. This isn't unusual for me to think in a standalone, but in this one I could almost taste a second installment, but at the same time, I knew that not only wouldn't it happen, if things went the way I saw them it wouldn't quite fit with the characters. That being said the end to this book was pretty unbelievably awesome. The final climax was a mix of tension and hilarity, all leading up to a great, if not a tad too idealistic, ending chapter. The final chapter acts as an epilogue and wraps up the story even more, in that way that almost literally puts a final period on the end of this story.
As with most of my five star reviews recently, this wasn't really a surprise, though there was a moment in the book where I almost knocked it down half a star, my aggravation was eventually made up for by a thrilling plot, a deep mystery, and the constancy of friendship.