A million years ago the world ended.
Since then a group of five have kept the City running.
Now, one of them has died.
Every generation, the five most powerful people in the City transfer their consciousnesses into nubile, teenage hosts. This allows them to continue their important work of keeping the city functioning and protected from the nuclear wasteland beyond its borders.
When one of the Five dies, though, the others decide that their bodies are too fragile and decide to find new hosts earlier than usual. This triggers a competition, where children from across the City travel to its center to compete for a chance to earn a place as a Vessel for one of the Five.
If chosen, their families will be taken care of for the rest of eternity. There is great prestige in being a Vessel, along with enormous wealth for the families of the chosen, which means every participant has their own motivations for competing.
Althea is one of those competitors. She is from a poor farming family on the outskirts of the City, and with the money she receives from her sacrifice, her family would never have to work again. She is willing to risk her life for them.
So, she decides to compete, traveling from her home in the outer rings through the inner rings and finally to the center where the competition is held.
Along the way, she discovers the City she once venerated is a more dangerous place than she ever thought possible. Every turn is fraught with peril, and the competition could be the death of her, even if she doesn't win.
Join Althea for a story of friendship, love, struggle, and perseverance in the face of enormous odds. Perfect for anybody who loved Divergent, The Hunger Games, or The Maze Runner.
WHY I LOVE THIS BOOK:
- I have always loved dystopian books, but rarely have a chance to read them or write them. This was one of the books I "cut my teeth on".
- Lee Kohse is a great friend and artist for Lucasfilms, when he told me he wanted to do a cover for this book, I just about flipped.
- This was the first book I tried out the "Book 1", "Book 2", etc, structure which would become a calling card of my books.
This is a book that will keep you completely focused on the world that has been built for these characters and the well developed characters themselves.
I have a soft spot for the dystopian genre, and particularly when it is written as a YA novel. Russell Nohelty is an excellent writer and has managed to set up a situation which, although set in a strange future, is very believable.
“Just let it go. You’re never gonna figure it out,” I yelled at Jake as he slammed his meaty palm across the broken tractor.
There were few things in life I hated more than watching somebody royally screw up. It’s the sort of grating hatred that made me want to punch somebody right in the mouth, especially when it’s Jake— a major, world-class, screwer-upper of things. I’d been watching him fix his family’s tractor for six hours and it was not even close to being usable.
“I hate you so much right now,” I shouted, dangling my feet from Jake’s woodshed. “Do you know how much I hate you? I hate you more than anything has ever hated anything in the history of the universe.”
It was true. The only thing I hated more than watching somebody muck up was if they refused to let me fix it. He’d failed seventeen times already; I’d counted. I could get that stupid tractor working in three minutes if it weren’t for his stupid, male pride.
What got me was how confident he was each time he failed. Men are always so confident, even if they don’t have a reason to be.
“I got it this time. I know I do.”
I wanted to leave, but knew I’d be stuck fixing it eventually. In order to do that, I had to know exactly how bad he’d screwed up, which meant watching this train wreck even if I had a dozen other chores to do.
“I’m so hungry, Jake. Can’t we just go eat now? I mean you clearly don’t know what you’re doing.’”
He was as stubborn as he was clumsy, and he wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t believe Daddy wanted me to marry this man.
Jake popped the clutch and put the battered tractor into gear. It sputtered, fizzled, and fell silent. “Dang it!”
“I told you before, it’s a stopped-up intake. That tractor isn’t going anywhere unless you remove all that build up.”
“Oh yeah? And what do you know anyway?”
What a stupid boy. “What do I know? Well, I know we aren’t eating until this gets fixed, and I know you aren’t going to fix it, and I definitely know how to fix a stupid intake. And I know I’m starving!’”
“Please, girl, you don’t know anything.”
That pissed me off. I had fixed everything on this ruddy farm, from the baler to the water heater, and he still didn’t trust me. Even though my dad had taught me everything he knew, it didn’t matter. I was still a girl. I didn’t know why having a vagina prevented me from knowing how to fix stuff.
I’d had enough of listening to him. I hopped up from my hay bale and opened the intake valve. After a few seconds, I pulled out a wad of mucky slime. “I told you. Try it now.”
“It’s not gonna work,” Jake insisted.
“You say that every time you try to fix it yourself and every time you fail. Can you just trust me for once already?”
He stepped on the clutch and turned the ignition. The rusted tractor turned over and purred like a kitten. “Dang you, Althea. Can’t you just be wrong this once?”
The truth was, I couldn’t be wrong. Not about this sort of stuff. I knew these farms inside and out. I could sleepwalk my way to fixing anything within a ten-mile radius. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“The fun’s in letting the man be the man for once in your life.”
“You find me a man and I’ll let him be one, alright? Now come on. We’re late for supper and I’m starving.”
I wanted to like Jake because Daddy wanted me to like him. I mean, I liked him more than any of the other boys, but that didn’t mean much since I hated all of them with the fire of a thousand suns. Maybe I could grow to like him enough, love him even. That’s what Daddy wanted.
“Come on!” I shouted to Jake.
I didn’t like to think about that sort of stuff though. That was a worry for the future. I just wanted to feel the rush of the cool, fall night on my skin. It felt so good. We liked it cool in the Fifth ring. We were bred for it.
There were six rings in all and they radiated out from the Center where the Five lived. The Five have been around since the dawn of time, moving their consciousness from person to person every generation.
The First Ring, where the richest and most powerful lived, was closest to the Center, and therefore closest to the Five.
The Second Ring was where your family lived if your body was chosen as a Vessel for the Five. If that happened, then every need for you and your family was taken care of for eternity. The Third Ring was full of bankers and businessmen. They handled all the money in the City and made sure everybody got paid.
All of that made up the Inner Rings. A big moat surrounded the Inner Rings to regulate the Outer Ring’s population from going there. The only way in was by train, and there were only four trains in the whole City. They all started at the Bubble and made their way in from all four directions, taking soldiers out and bringing goods in. The trains were way too expensive for anybody except soldiers to use, but I often hoped I could get on the train one day and see the Center myself. They say it’s beautiful.
The Outer Rings were where the City made stuff. The Fourth Ring warehoused all the raw materials and processed them into food and consumable products. The Fifth Ring, where I lived, made all the food the City needed. The Sixth, well, you didn’t want to go to the Sixth. That was where they mined all the ore, and it was dirty and smelly. Farmland stayed dead for a hundred miles from its edges. People from the Sixth were mean and hard.
Every Ring had its people; the Five had bred them from birth, generation after generation, to do a specific job. For instance, I’m a farmer, just like everybody else in the Fifth. That’s what I know. That’s who I am. We are practical, humble, and no-nonsense people, who don’t mind hard work or getting our hands dirty.
I would say that I’m a pretty average Fifth. I’m tall and broad with long hair and dark eyes. I run pretty fast, but not too fast. Just fast enough. Some people say I’m pretty, but not pretty enough to be noticed. I like to think I’m kind too, but not kind enough to be taken advantage of. I’m just right, Daddy says, average in the middle. That’s what you want to be, average. You want to fit like a glove. If you don’t fit, they’ll find you. You don’t want to be found.
“Hurry up, slow poke!” I shouted over my shoulder to Jake. “They probably ate all the good stuff already.”
Jake looked a little like me, except he was a boy. Like most Fives, Jake was hearty, strong, and confident. The Five needed us stronger than oxen. They relied on us to feed the entire City, and the City was hungry.
OUR HOUSE WASN’T BIG or flashy, but it got the job done. My great-grandpa built it with his own hands two hundred years ago. It was a good house even though it was a little drafty, the walls were paper thin, and the floor creaked horribly. Mama said it had character. That’s what people say about something when they don’t have anything nice to say.
“Mama!” I shouted, rushing through our front door. “Sorry we’re late. Hope dinner’s not cold.”
Mama knew I would be late. I was always late. They all just went on without me. If there was no food left it was my own fault, but they always left me enough. My family was like that. We watch out for each other.
They weren’t in the kitchen when Jake and I ran inside, and they were always in the kitchen when I got home. We weren’t that late. The dinner table was full of food, too. We never left food on the table. “Mama! Is everything alright?”
The sound of the TV blared from the family room. Our TV never stayed on when it was dinnertime. We had strict rules about even glancing at the TV room until the food was cleaned up. Something was wrong.
I found them in the family room. Mama was crying messy tears. Dad and my brother, Bobby, were silent. They stared at the TV like zombies. “Mama. What’s going on?”
“Shhhhhh,” Dad responded, barely able to move his lips.
An elegant, poised, beautiful lady was on the TV. She was somber and dignified. It was Earth, one of the Five, the patron Saint of the Fifth Ring. Earth came from the land and had built all of the agriculture after the Incident. It was because of her that there were farms and land, and Mama and Daddy and Jake and even my disgusting brother Bobby.
“I regret to inform you,” Earth said, “that early this morning, we found Wind, dead.”