Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: The Finisher by David Baldacci

Let me preface this by saying: this is my first time reading David Baldacci; this is David Baldacci’s first time (as far as I know) writing young adult SF/F; and, therefore, this is in no way a review of Baldacci’s larger canon of work, which I have never read and is not of the same genre as this book.

Vega Jane has never left the village of Wormwood – neither has anyone else in the village – until the night she sees her mentor vanish into the dangerous forest that surrounds the hamlet. Behind him, he’s left a series of cryptic clues for Vega to follow – if she can survive long enough to understand them.

I picked up The Finisher because I recognized Baldacci’s name and because someone had mentioned it as a readalike for The Giver. Unfortunately, The Finisher comes nowhere near Lois Lowry’s masterpiece. While it starts in a tone similar to The Giver – isolated village overseen by ruling council – Baldacci quickly starts tacking on subplots. The narrative jolts from dramatic moment to dramatic moment, made more confusing by the fact that Baldacci laces the story with arbitrary invented words (e.g., “session” instead of “year”), some of which are never fully explained. And then he throws in some magic. With no real rules or explanations, the nebulous magic saves (or hurts) various people Because Baldacci Said So whenever Vega Jane can’t think her way out of something.

For all that, the society Baldacci builds is the best thing about the book. The council members are flawed but well-intentioned, being rough doesn’t mean being cruel, and when it occurs, cruelty can be deliberate or unintentional. And I like the idea of fantasy AND dystopia. Unfortunately, Baldacci has not created a successful merger of the two genres.