by Jerri Chisholm
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Publication Date: December 8, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
In Compound Eleven, the hierarchy of the floors is everything.
My name is Eve Hamilton, and on my floor, we fight.
Which at least is better than the bottom floor, where they toil away in misery. Only the top floor has any ease in this harsh world; they rule from their gilded offices.
Because four generations ago, Earth was rendered uninhabitable—the sun too hot, the land too barren. Those who remained were forced underground. While not a perfect life down here, I’ve learned to survive as a fighter.
Except my latest match is different. Instead of someone from the circuit, my opponent is a mysterious boy from the top floor. And the look in his eyes tells me he’s different…maybe even kind.
Right before he kicks my ass.
Still, there’s something about him—something that says he could be my salvation...or my undoing. Because I’m no longer content to just survive in Eleven. Today, I'm ready to fight for more than my next meal: I'm fighting for my freedom. And this boy may just be the edge I've been waiting on.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »violent no-rules-barred boxing match-style fights (which lead to serious injury and death), death of side characters (including children), gun violence, alcohol, attempted sexual assault, PTSD from assault, slavery, police-style brutality, child abuse, domestic violence (side character, distant/toxic family « Hide Spoiler
It’s not clear from the blurb, but this is actually the first book in a trilogy. While I found the resolution satisfactory, there’s still quite a few plot threads left hanging.
“Sometimes I wonder if it is better to be alive and caged or dead and free. I guess if I’m fighting for my life right now, I believe the former.
It is always better to be alive.”
To be honest, the entire plot is basically summed up by the book title: Eve is determined to escape the underground Compound Eleven before she’s forced to pick a job and swear allegiance to the Premes, the residents of the top floor. That means she has just over a month to figure out where she’s going – and how. While she’s fascinated by the surface, everyone knows that it’s uninhabitable due to unrelenting heat, so her only choice is escaping to one of the connecting compounds. But she’s keeping her escape a secret from her friends, and things get even more complicated when she somehow ends up befriending a Preme after facing him in a boxing match. But her friendship with Wren leads her to question a lot of her assumptions about Premes and what she wants from life. Is one person enough to make staying in Eleven worth it, or is their relationship just another cage?
“You know, if anyone bears a resemblance to the sun, it’s you.”
“A dangerous, intense, burning ball of fire? Yeah, that sounds like you.”
Eve is angry, confused and more likely to punch someone than talk to them. In other words, I loved her. From a young age, she’s felt betrayed by the Compound, especially the Premes, and she’s just naive enough to think that she can escape to somewhere better. The pacing is slow and a bit uneven. There’s a lot of daily life bits – practicing for the fights, feeding the Noms, just hanging around with her friends, interspersed with more action-oriented scenes. This didn’t bother me that much as the slower scenes gave us more insight into Eve. And that’s really what the story is about – Eve coming to terms with how she feels about her place in Compound Eleven, in her family, and among her friends. She starts out angry and a bit naive, and over the course of a little over a month, she grows as a person. There’s a lot to be said about tarring groups with the same brush (all Premes are bad, all guards are bad) and judging people without fully comprehending their motives. Plus, she comes to understand herself better – while she wants her freedom, even if it means her death, there are some lengths she’s not willing to go to. Finding out what those are, though, is quite the story.
“Besides, it’s kind of hard to get a girl out of your head once she sucker punches you in the face. Never a dull moment with you, Eve.”
Wren’s more of a cipher. He verged a bit too close to the “too perfect to be true” love interest. There were hints of more to him – why was he in the fighting ring against Eve to begin with? – and other references to a violent nature, but I never felt like that was fully explored. Part of it, I think, is that we only get Eve’s POV, and she’s downright snippy about spending time with a Preme. She’s trying to convince herself she doesn’t care about Wren or why he’s there, and frankly she tries to avoid talking to him as much as possible. The development of their relationship felt realistic to me, and I liked how Wren and his friends fit into Eve’s friend group.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this book and I will definitely be picking up the next one. If you’re looking for a character-driven dystopian romance, this is the book for you!