Book Review: Year One

Year One by Nora Roberts

I read Year One this week. My first Nora Roberts novel.

I’m quite positive Nora will laugh at my review all the way to the bank, but this was not one of my favorites.

I rate it 10 out of a possible 25. (see My Book Reviews for rating explanation)

The premise: Year One is an apocalyptic thriller where a super-flu virus wipes out most of humanity. As the world descends into chaos, survivors (those immune to the flu) flee New York City in a desperate attempt to escape the husk of a world the flu left behind. Many of these survivors discover they have powers, like witches and sorcerers (no real explanation of where the powers come from – they just have them after people start dying). There are good witches and bad ones. Eventually, the story culminates into a showdown of good versus evil through the birth of a child – The One.

For me, Year One misses the mark on so many levels. It’s so poorly-written that it’s difficult to complete, which I’m confused about because when I look up reviews on this book, I read raves about how awesome it is. I simply scratch my head and wonder what I’m missing. I read once that as a writer, you can learn as much from a poorly-written book as you can from a well-written book. That’s the only reason I finished it.

I was most excited about Year One because it was written by Nora Roberts (an author I’ve always wanted to read). She has a bazillion books (like 200 or so), so it would surely be awesome, and the story is apocalyptic. However; by the time I reached page 50, I struggled to keep reading and eventually stopped. I only picked it up last week to finish the damn thing so I could say I’d read it. Plus, I held out a thin hope that it would end up being decent.

Here are my thoughts and ratings on Year One.

  • Craft (2) – Let’s start with Points of View (POV). POV is critical in a story – without it, the reader struggles to ground themselves. If every scene comes at you from different POVs, it can be difficult to keep up with and impossible to connect deeply with a character. In addition, the writing in general is just not compelling. I found myself lost so often that I’d have to go back and start paragraphs and entire pages over again. Dialogue was also difficult to follow. Many times, I had no idea who was even speaking. Most poignant was how often I didn’t care and I just read through it because it didn’t matter.

  • Pace (2) – The pace of the story was decent. It kept moving forward, though there were a few occasions that it stalled. As an example, the scene where Max and his group make camp at the farmhouse and we spend pages and pages of Lana cooking dinner. I skimmed through a few of those. The best scene of the book was inside the tunnels while escaping New York. I did like that.

  • Characters (1) – Of all of my complaints, this one is probably the biggest. I’m a character person. None of these characters had any dimensions. They were all exactly alike with lame descriptions like she was hot and obviously upset. The only character with any semblance of depth was a side character named Eddie. Almost every action was predictable. Dialogue wasn’t natural. And Nora, men don’t think and speak like the ones in this story.

  • Story (3) – The only thing that I can rate in average territory is the story. The story was decent. Not necessarily original, but decent. There was nothing fantastic about it. Nothing happened that made me think, wow, I had no idea that was going to happen. Very predictable, but if you like these types of stories, it’s what you’d expect.

  • Ending (2) – At least the story has an ending. As I’ve promised in these blogs, I don’t seek to spoil the book for folks who may want to read it. I will say this – the ending is anti-climactic. There’s a whole bunch of chaos, then a long stretch of interesting (likely the most interesting part of the book) activities by Lana, then it ends as you’d expect.

I think I’m mainly just frustrated with Year One. It wasn’t cheap and I was so damned excited to read it. I have to believe that Year One is not indicative of her writing. Perhaps she was rushed, or maybe she didn’t actually write it. I don’t know. I have nothing to compare it to since this is the only book of hers I’ve ever read.

I’ve also been seeing a lot of these apocalyptic stories lately where the survivors either have secret powers or they develop them. Not sure I’m a fan of the apocalyptic/magical realism blend overall, but maybe I just haven’t read the right story.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – did you like this story?

I hate giving a bad review. As authors, we must stick together. Perhaps we adopt the rule if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. But damn it, I promised to post an honest review of every book I read.

And the fact is, Nora is very successful. As an author who could only dream of reaching her level, I’m happy for her that this book was successful. I’ll simply accept that this one just wasn’t my cup of tea.