A debut novel proves that college can literally be murder.
Of course, Nowhere Island University isn’t your average institution of higher learning. Nathan Jacobs, Sherman’s protagonist, learns this very quickly. NIU is actually a prep school for mercenaries, drawing students from terrorist and paramilitary groups around the globe. So how did Nate, admittedly adrift when it comes to his life plans, end up here? Nate got recruited at his high school Career Day by the shadowy spy agency UNIX and was sent in undercover to investigate NIU. Joining him is John Marshall, another UNIX plant. Nate fears that he’s in over his head but soon shows that he can hold his own alongside more experienced students. But he’s hamstrung by having a moral compass: “There are people who will hurt the people I love, maybe because of irrational hatred, maybe because they think it will make a point or profit, or maybe because they’re the kind of sicko who enjoys it.” He’s inducted into a secret society comprising seven of the school’s fiercest fighters. While all of the students have to watch their backs, Nate discovers that the biggest obstacle is the curriculum, which produces a high fatality rate. So it becomes a never-ending struggle for Nate and his new friends to outlast the sadistic program set up by the school masters. Sherman has created a crisply paced thriller culled from a series of his online postings over two years. Remarkably, he has smoothly married together these posts into a work that should capably hold readers’ attention. It is a visceral novel, as he recounts in graphic detail the grisly, life-and-death struggles of the NIU students, a majority of whom don’t survive. In his author’s note, Sherman admits to being a video game fan, and this tale feels like one, with a similarly high body count. But characterization is a shortcoming, as, other than Nate, the players aren’t three-dimensional enough for readers to become invested in them. The reasons most of these students willingly inject themselves into this setting aren’t made clear. Still, it’s possible to ride along on the frenetic action and enjoy the violent world that the author has developed.
An engaging thriller with an academic setting that readers wouldn’t want to be caught dead in.