Author: Dan Wells
Genre: Post-Apocalypse, Dystopian, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Publication Date: March 2012
Hardcover: 472 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Partials Series
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I *love* Dan Wells’ John Cleaver trilogy (I Am Not A Serial Killer made my longlist of notable reads of 2010), so when I learned that he was writing a dystopian SF series for the YA crowd, I was ecstatic – and Partials shot up to the top of my list of most highly anticipated books of early 2012.
“When our ancestors were attacked at Pearl Harbor, they called it a day that would live in infamy. The day the Partials attacked us with the RM virus will not live in anything, because there will be none of us left to remember it.”
~President David R. Cregan, March 21, 2065, in a press conference at the white house. Three hours later he hanged himself.
The Partials were created by man – a synthetic human-appearing army of super soldiers, made to fight mankind’s battles. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.
(Ok, I couldn’t resist the BSG comparison – it’s kind of inevitable. But more on that in a bit.)
When the Partials – one million strong – rebelled against their human overlords, they unleashed a biological weapon that decimated mankind. The RM virus had a 99% fatality rate, leaving only a small, isolated community of less than 50,000 survivors congregated in the crumbling ruins of Long Island. The true legacy of RM and the Partial War, however, would not be felt until years later – with the death of every single newborn child. Desperate to find a way to cure the virus, to have at least one baby live longer than three days, the aging Senate that governs humanity passes the Hope Act, which dictates that all fertile women over the age of 18 must be impregnated and bear children on a yearly basis.
Sixteen year old Kira, a “plague baby”, can barely remember the days before the Partial War, but she’s passionate to find a cure for the RM virus that threatens the survival of her species. A skilled medical researcher and an idealist, Kira has a crazy idea – to capture a Partial and to study its physiology. When, against all odds, Kira’s plan to capture a Partial succeeds, she finds herself mired in a power struggle of unfathomable repercussions. To cure RM and save her best friend’s unborn child, Kira will do anything – but the answers to Kira’s questions will change her world forever. Nothing is what it seems, and Kira gradually uncovers the truth: the truth of the Partials and the war with humanity, the truth of the civil unrest that threatens the handful of human survivors, and the truth of the RM virus itself.
Well, color me happy – I had pretty high hopes coming into Partials, having been such a fan of Dan Wells’ other work – and I am incredibly happy to report that this book totally, unquestionably rocked.
Inevitably, Partials draws comparisons to Battlestar Galactica – you’ve got a flawed, decimated human society with just a few thousand survivors, living day to day in a struggle to simply survive. You’ve got your cylon-esque synthetic humanoids, in this case called Partials, that are indistinguishable from their human creators, seen as abominations by their human creators, but think and feel and emote just as their human creators do. There aren’t any battlestars or raptors, no resurrection ships or FTL jumps in Mr. Wells’ book, but the themes that underly BSG are all present in Partials – what defines humanity? Who is to blame for the calamitous war? With the stakes so high, how far can and will either side go in order to survive? What separates a rebel cause from terrorism?
Frak me, I loved every second of it.
But enough of the BSG references – how does Partials stand on its own, you ask? The answer is: beautifully. From a writing and storytelling perspective, this first book in a planned series expertly weaves in complex themes of humanity, and addresses the question of immediate survival, versus hope and planning for the future. The twists might be a bit on the predictable side (not because of poor writing, but because, well, there’s only so many directions a story like this can go), but are executed with surgical precision. Dan Wells also plays close attention to pathology of RM and delves into the structure of the virus and the medical mystery/thriller aspect of its proliferation, in the style of Megan Crewe’s The Way We Fall and Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. Also similar to the Newsflesh books, and to some extent, Patrick Ness’s The Ask and the Answer (Book 2 in the Chaos Walking trilogy) Partials has an impressive political subplot that addresses rebellion, freedom of choice, of speech, and expression of these rights. The only thematic aspect of the story that I wish could have been explored more thoroughly is the question of women’s rights – the Hope Act and its repercussions, forcing women to bear dead child after dead child, year after year, is an amazing vehicle for deeper evaluation and commentary around reproductive rights and a woman’s right to choose. While these issues are touched upon lightly in this book, I’m hoping for deeper examination in book 2.
From a character perspective, I loved Kira as a heroine – fiercely capable, level-headed, never the damsel in distress, and passionate about those she cares for and her ideals. She’s also refreshingly free of the traits so common in the contemporary dystopia YA heroine – none of the annoying too-stupid-to-live tendencies, none of the frustrating inner monologues about romantic entanglements (especially when there are clearly bigger issues – like extinction – at stake). No, Kira has a mission and even though there is an undeniable romantic subplot for future books, it’s tempered with realism and handled with subtlety. The larger cast of characters feels genuine and well-rounded, from Kira’s boyfriend Marcus (with his genial attitude, but frustrating tendency to want to “save” Kira – who bristles at his protective urges to save her from herself – ick, but believable), to the serious one-track minded Haru, to the passionate Xochi, to the stoic Partial captive, Samm. The best litmus test for effective cast building is the fact that I cannot wait to get to know these characters better in the next book.
I loved this book, I cannot wait for the next volume, and I’m afraid that my list of favorite books of 2012 is filling up already. Absolutely frakking recommended.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Thanks to HarperCollins’ Browse Inside feature, you can read the first 95 pages of the book online HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Earthseed by Pamela Sargent
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