Partials, by Dan Wells

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Publication date – February 28, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with partials–engineered organic beings identical to humans–has decimated the world’s population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. The threat of the partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to the disease in over a decade. Humanity’s time is running out.

When sixteen-year-old Kira learns of her best friend’s pregnancy, she’s determined to find a solution. Then one rash decision forces Kira to flee her community with the unlikeliest of allies. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that the survival of both humans and partials rests in her attempts to answer questions of the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

Combining the fast-paced action of The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Battlestar Galactica, Partials is a pulse-pounding journey into a world where the very concept of what it means to be human is in question–one where our sense of humanity is both our greatest liability, and our only hope for survival.

Thoughts: After reading many of the reviews for this book, and reading the book itself, I know in advance that I’m going to be a voice of dissent here. For me, Partials didn’t live up to the hype, and I consider that a real shame, because there was a lot to work with in the book that could have become an utterly fantastic novel were it not for a few key things.

First of all, let me say that the world that Wells set up here was an interesting one. Not that original, but definitely interesting. A terrible disease has wiped out the vast majority of the human race, and the only survivors known are in a settlement on Long Island. In the world beyond live a few stragglers who don’t want to live among others, a rebel group known as the Voice of the People, and the Partials, a genetically-engineered race of soldiers who appear perfectly human, who played more than a small part in decimating society themselves. The settlement on Long Island is run by a senate, who exert a tight control over the populace without stepping over the line in most areas. It’s a hard world to live in, make no mistake, and it’s presented as much. This is a post-apocalyptic novel, not a dystopian one, though the seeds of dystopia were certainly planted.

The disease, known as RM, continues to kill. The people in the settlement are immune, but any babies born to them are killed by RM within days. The senate has put forward the Hope Act, which dictates that females must, by a certain age, have as many babies as possible, in the hope that one of them will be born with a genetic mutation that allows them to resist the disease.

And here’s where I run into my first problem with the novel. Not the Act itself (that’s basic human control being exerted, and not a surprise in the slightest), but the way it’s all being handled. They’re looking for a genetic mutation to allow the babies to be able to resist. Not a single mention is made of how the current survivors actually survived. Do they have a mutation? If so, why isn’t it passed to their children? Do they have antibodies? If so, why doesn’t the baby have those same antibodies, since they essentiall get their early immune system from their mother? In the main character’s attempts to study the RM virus, no mention is ever made of antibodies. It could be implied that previous studies have ruled out antibodies as a way of curing future generations (ignoring that fact that this doesn’t make a spectacular amount of sense to begin with), but if that’s the case, then this book leaves a lot to the reader’s assumption of the backstory. If that’s not the case, then, well, this was a major oversight, and it looks very clumsy in the execution.

The book is written as though the reader understands a great deal. Which, in some ways, is nice, because it means that I’m not reading through it and constantly having things dumbed down for me. On the other hand, this proves to be a detriment when the author introduces things that really need better explanations. A perfect example is the DORD machine that Kira uses. All I can gather from the book is that it’s some sort of medical imaging device with a good deal of computing power. It took a Google search pulling up no results that aren’t actually related to Partials for me to conclude that this is a device that either goes by a different name now or was just invented for the sake of the book. What does DORD stand for? That alone might give me some better clue as to just what it is.

And while we’re on the subject of acronyms, we never actually find out what RM stands for, either. There’s a lot in this book that isn’t given explanation.

In addition to the above problems, I found it very hard to like any of the characters, mostly because they were very hard to know. With a few exceptions, most of the characters were just nebulous figures with names, playing a part without much to distinguish them from anybody else. Kira, as the main character, gets a pass on this. Marcus has his witty sense of humour. Samm is identifiable. Xochi is the angry voice of dissenting youth. But most of the others were fairl interchangable. Minor characters do things without indication of their motivation, and then we never get to see them again. I cared more about Madison’s unborn child than I cared about Madison, because as far as I could see, Madison’s role in the book was little more than the carrier of a baby. Nandita’s disappearance had the tension taken out of it by the fact that she only appeared twice and didn’t do much beyond dispensing a little bit of motherly advice and telling a soldier about where she used to live. Forget relating to some of the characters when even telling them apart was difficult at times.

Wells has a great talent for turns of phrase and some evocative descriptions, and he’s certainly got an eye for wide-scale detail and a grasp of how people work in dire situations. That alone was pretty much what prevented this book from being given a lower rating than it already was. I found too many issues with it, too many loose ends and unanswered questions for me to find this book very enjoyable. Which is regrettable, because as I said earlier, it could have been really good. I think perhaps it was too ambitious a story to tell in the way that it was. Potential, in the end, didn’t amount to very much.

It’s even odds as to whether I’ll read the second book when it’s released. This introduction didn’t do much to endear me to the story or the author. I’ll probably wait and look at other reviews to see if an of my issues with this one get addressed first. Ultimately, I’d have to say that this book might be good to borrow before you buy, and I’d advise the reader to keep in mind that if they’ve got even a brief grounding in medical science, you’re going to have your problems with it.

(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)

2 comments on “Partials, by Dan Wells

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