Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In the future, humans live in city-like spaceships orbiting far above Earth’s toxic atmosphere. No one knows when, or even if, the long-abandoned planet will be habitable again. But faced with dwindling resources and a growing populace, government leaders know they must reclaim their homeland… before it’s too late.
Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents are being sent on a high-stakes mission to recolonize Earth. After a brutal crash landing, the teens arrive on a savagely beautiful planet they’ve only seen from space. Confronting the dangers of this rugged new world, they struggle to form a tentative community. But they’re haunted by their past and uncertain about the future. To survive, they must learn to trust – and even love – again.
Thoughts: Life in the Colony is tough. It’s not so bad for those in the Phoenix section, the wealthy and elite who get more ration credits and privileges than, say, those in Arcadia or Walden, but even on Phoenix, it’s tough. Being part of the privileged elite doesn’t stop you from getting arrested for rule infractions, Confined until your 18th birthday when you will be retried, and then probably executed anyway.
This is the situation that most of the characters in The 100 find themselves in. Imagine their surprise when they discover that instead of being killed on their birthdays, a group of 100 of them (hence the title of the book) are granted a sort of reprieve: to be sent down from the orbiting Colony to Earth, where they will see if the radiation and damage from the Cataclysm has faded enough for the rest of the Colony to resettle the planet. 1 prisoner escapes back onto the ship. 1 young man not condemned forces his way onto the ship to be with his sister. And down to the planet they go.
The story is told from multiple character viewpoints, one per chapter, with about half the book taking the form of flashbacks, revealing what the various characters had done that landed them in their current predicament in the first place. It was an interesting combination of both showing and telling, setting the story at a pivotal point in their lives, and taking steps back to reveal more about them. It’s a very character-driven novel rather than an action-driven one, as most of the interesting events happen in the past. I had expected, given the book’s premise, that there would be a stronger element of survivalism to the novel, which I enjoy a lot, and I was disappointed by the lack of it. The flashbacks provided a great amount of information and background, but I feel that there was a lot of potential that got passed over by having the majority of compelling events be things that already happened.
This book wavers between impressively dark and painfully simplistic, which is a shame because striking a better balance might have spoiled a bit of the impact of the more mature and disturbing scenes, but it also would have made for a better book, in my opinion. Orphaned children dying of intentional radiation poisoning (and the teenagers that slips one of them a lethal dose of painkillers to provide a painless death), a woman attempting to strangle and kill her unwanted and illegal second child, the idea of killing people when they become adults for crimes they committed as children, it’s all pretty grim, and the author deserves some praise for feature a few moments that made me recoil because they were deeply impacting and emotional. But then you get rather simplistic dialogue and motivations for characters who are in a complex and tense and altogether alien situation, and they seem more like bad actors reading lines than people with any real drive to what they’re doing or saying.
There are very few of the characters who I actually found likable, mostly for this reason. I think Bellamy was the one who had the fewest moments that made me want to facepalm. Bellamy may have been ignorant of some issues regarding his sister, but that was actually something that drove his character development, and I enjoyed seeing him to come grips with what he’d done and the revelations about the person he’d done it for. Glass and Clarke, the primary female protagonists, seemed to have much of their decisions based upon will-they-won’t-they romance, and it was only in their flashbacks that they really showed the depths of their respective personalities. Wells is the guy who endangered everyone on the Colony by actively sabotaging the ship’s structure in order to try to reconcile with the girl who said she didn’t want to be involved with him anymore, and believe me, there is no end to how much I ended up hating Wells. He makes a compelling case for how someone can be a good leader but a very bad stupid person.
The book wasn’t entirely bad. It mostly suffered from weak dialogue resulting in weak characters, and from a seeming lack of direction when it came to moving the plot forward instead of relying on flashbacks to carry the weight. The past was deep and full of development for the characters, but the present was weak and considerably less compelling, and that, I think, is what’s largely at the core of the book seeming uneven. Adding flashbacks to almost every chapter spreads the compelling backstory out across the whole novel, but that doesn’t make it a balanced novel, no matter how much it may seem at first to be. But there is still potential for the story to develop, since now that we’ve seen what brought everyone to their current positions, there’s nowhere to go but forward.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)