At first I wasn’t sure this book would live up to the hype on the back of the book. Set in a world in the not too distant future, after a few wars, including the war of civility, when the country tried too hard to stamp down on dissenters and go back to a more god-fearing life, some bombs were detonated, and life is measured as before the Detonations, or after. Some people survived into an experimental Dome, where they live in peace and comfort, with everything taken care of for them. Partridge is one such young man. Hs father is high up in the Dome’s governing board, and so he has special status, but he is just an ordinary teen. His older brother Sedge, who had been in the Elite Corps several years ahead of him, had been good at everything, and took to his “coding” or enhancements, well. But one day he committed suicide, which in the Dome, where resources are scarce, and only the fittest should survive to populate the New Eden, when they can return to the ravaged land outside and repopulate the earth, is considered nothing to be ashamed of. But for Partridge, his behavioral coding won’t take. His Dad keeps asking him if his mother, who died in the Detonations trying to get people inside the Dome, gave him anything. She had given him some small blue pills, but he didn’t know what they were for, and he didn’t want to tell his stern father, whom he ha always seemed to disappoint. So one day, he hatches a plan, after seeing some blueprints on the wall in his Dad’s office, to escape through the exhaust ducts, and go outside the dome, since something his father let slip makes him believe his mother may still be alive – that, and a box of personal mementos everyone who died is allowed to have kept after they are cremated. He steals the stuff in the box, and makes his way outside, where nothing is as he thought it would be.
Meanwhile, Pressia, a young girl, deformed by the blasts, lives with her grandfather in the burned out city, in an abandoned barbershop. She is almost 16, the age when the OSR, a group that trains soldiers to one day take down the Dome and be allowed their resources to medicines, etc. takes young teens away. Pressia has some burns on her face, and a plastic baby doll’s head fused to her hand. Her grandfather has a small handheld fan lodged in his windpipe. Others have pieces of glass, leather, or even other people fused into their bodies, as these were a new type of bomb that created mutations fast – in the first generation. Some are fused in groups of several people. Some with birds, or trees, or even fused into the ground. But they all manage to survive, at least the ones that made it past the first stage. Then one day a Pure, which is what they call the unblemished people of the Dome, comes into the city – Partridge, who is seeking his mother, and so begins a tale of adventure, comradeship, and a trip through the Wastelands, the Deadlands, and dangerous encounters with creatures that were never meant to be, as they follow what they hope are clues his mother left behind in the box of her personal effects. It is a story about love, loyalty, and beauty wherever you find it. One of my favorite parts of the book was a small filigree mechanical clockwork cicada, named Freedle, that Pressia kept a a pet. The book is charming, horrifying, but still lovingly painted, so that these are not monsters, but real human beings who just happen to be a bit different. Part of a trilogy to come. A keeper.