Themes: / young adult / survival / horror /
A teenage girl awakens to find herself trapped in a coffin. She has no idea who she is, where she is, or how she got there. Fighting her way free brings little relief – she discovers only a room lined with caskets and a handful of equally mystified survivors. Beyond their room lies a corridor filled with bones and dust but no people and no answers.
She knows only one thing about herself – her name, M. Savage, which was engraved on the foot of her coffin. She finds herself in charge. She is not the biggest among them or the boldest, but for some reason the others trust her. Now, if they’re to have any chance, she must get them to trust one another.
Whatever the truth is, she is determined to find it and confront it. If she has to lead, she will make sure they survive. Maybe there’s a way out, a rational explanation, and a fighting chance against the dangers to come. Or maybe a reality they cannot comprehend lies just beyond the next turn.
“A stabbing pain jolts me awake.” So begins the story of a girl on what is an exciting day in her young life; her twelfth birthday. Maybe the pain was just from a dream, she thinks. But when she realizes she is surrounded by “total darkness” and is unable to move thanks to metal bars, she is forced to make a decision. It will be the first of many choices to be made.
Scott Sigler’s Alive is all about momentum and what I like to call structured discovery. With that in mind, I am going to do my best to keep things as spoiler free as possible. Our main protagonist has virtually a blank slate and nothing to help her as she begins her journey. She is thrust into an unfamiliar situation and doesn’t even know her name. Answers will not come easy for her or anyone else she meets on her quest. The unknown is everywhere. The only way is forward. We (as listeners) are inside her head and learn things as she learns them. For the impatient, this could be frustrating, a tad jarring, and bewildering since the story is told not only in first person but in the present tense as well . If you stick with M. (as she comes to be called), you will be rewarded in time. Be prepared for a slow burn which calls to mind British films as far as the pacing is concerned. This isn’t a bad thing since we are normally conditioned to have everything presented all in a rush with no time to process. It is refreshing to have things unfold naturally. You will feel like you are thrown into the deep end but that is okay because so is M. You are not alone.
This being the audio version of the 368 page novel, the narrator is very important; this can’t be over stated. He or she has to convey all the emotions of not only M. but anyone else, help pull us into Sigler’s world, and adapt to the fluidity of the story. Luckily, Emma Galvin is more than capable of handling the various subtleties. Words change meaning, (the names of certain objects for example), as does the physical and emotional landscape. This is Scott Sigler at his best. The perilous puzzle is well constructed, contains a myriad of vivid descriptions, and keeps you guessing throughout. If this were done as a film, first person point of view would be highly appropriate for the presentation.
If William Golding’s Lord of the Flies comes to mind while you are listening as it did for me, the comparison aptly fits. Questions are explored in depth. What is a leader? What makes a good one verses a bad one? Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of those that who have gone before or can we as a society break the cycle? How and where does a religious/belief system fit into the equation? Do we follow something because of blind faith or because we connect the dots? How do we handle fear? What is the right way to address conflict? Should we hold ourselves accountable because of the choices we have made or should we chalk things up to mere accidental outcomes? When does the life of an individual outweigh the lives of the entire group?
This story doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. Long-time Scott Sigler fans may be asking themselves, “Is there gore?” The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.” However, this isn’t bloodshed and carnage purely for the sake of it. Everything serves a purpose even if we don’t understand it’s function when we come into contact with it at first. In the same token, things are presented with a deft sensativity to the target YA audience. There are many, many lessons to be learned. There’s a lot for teachers to work with if this book were to be used in a school environment.
As far as the science in this book, I can’t say much without revealing plot points. I will say, however, that technology of all sorts is represented nicely. Scott Sigler’s attention to detail, (another one of his trademarks), is present but skillfully subdued because of the limited knowledge of the main character. Observations are kept simplistic unless finer details are absolutely necessary.
If you are looking for a complex story that has mysteries within mysteries to be solved and a well-rounded cast of characters including a strong (yet vulnerable) female protagonist, this book is definitely for you. While the slow burn approach and the first person, present tense narrative may irk some listeners, the payoffs and the overall journey getting to those rewards make it all worthwhile. This being the first book in a trilogy, there is a true sense of discovery as the scope of things expands and the stakes are raised. Loose ends are tied up to a degree by the novel’s conclusion but the dust is far from settled. It is a claustrophobic roller coaster ride with many jolts, bumps, and twists along the way. Alive by Scott Sigler gets five out of five coffins.
Posted by Allen Sale.