COUNTDOWN by Michelle Rowen
Author: Michelle Rowen
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Genre: YA Post Apocalypse/Sci-Fi
Format: Digital ARC
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Recommended Reading: 16+
Contains no spoilers.
Received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
THE GIST: I would call Countdown a cross between the Saw movies and the Hunger Games series, while not quite living up to either. I was kind of let down at first, but likable, well-developed characters, as well as an engaging second half did a pretty good job of redeeming the novel.
3 seconds left to live.
Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped.
2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game.
Kira Jordan survived her family’s murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis.
1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it.
Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira’s psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan’s secrets prove ever more deadly, Kira’s only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can’t escape.
BREAKDOWN: Countdown is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic that doesn’t really feel like a post-apoc aside from a few references to “the plague.” More than anything it felt like a futuristic kind of sci-fi that felt like horror at times. Unconventional genres and genre-crossing stories can be really cool, so that was okay, but I felt like the book had a bit of an identity crisis and didn’t seem to hold a consistent feel throughout. However, the bigger problem I had was I just kept thinking, “This doesn’t feel like young adult,” even though the characters are the right age. The story was gritty and smarmy in a way that just felt too adult (and made me feel icky… me feeling icky does not equal me enjoying a book) and it reminded me of an R rated horror film for most of the first half (Saw and No Vacancy come to mind). Once I got into the second half of the book, I actually enjoyed it a lot more. In fact, it felt like a different book altogether. I checked out the acknowledgements at the end, which I don’t always do, and I realized the problem. The book was previously published under a different pseudonym, but it was an adult book that has been revamped as a YA and is about to be published under the name Michelle Rowen.
I struggled to connect with the first half of the novel. Each level of the deadly game seemed too quick and easily resolved. Having said that, the third act of the book really held my interest, and by that point I started to actually care about the characters’ outcomes. It was a lot more like what I was expecting.
Where this book excelled were the moments around the story’s climax. This was where the author definitely did not allow things to resolve easily, and I was grateful. There was a moment where I thought, “Is that really it?” Then the heroes were yet again thwarted before a dramatic and satisfying end. As I writer, I especially appreciate how hard she made things on her heroes. Coming up with so many ways to make their situation worse added to the intensity and really worked well.
Due to violence, language, and sexual situations, I don’t recommend this book for young readers.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Good for readers who like their YA gritty, mature, and dangerous. Countdown features well-developed characters that are easy to root for despite a first half that struggled to engage. The second half made the read worthwhile.