The light was fading, the bonfire flickering across the faces standing around Wells.
“I know this all seems strange and intimidating and, yes, unfair, but we’re here for a reason,” he told the crowd. “If we survive, everyone survives.”
Nearly a hundred heads turned to him, and for a moment, he thought perhaps his words had chipped away at the layers of calcified defiance and ignorance. But then a new voice crashed into the silence.
“Careful, there, Jaha.”
Wells twisted around and say a tall kid in a bloodstained guard uniform. The boy who’d forced his way onto the dropship - who’d held Wells’s father hostage. “Earth is still in recovery mode. We don’t know how much bullshit it can handle.”
It has been 300 years since a small band of humans have abandoned Earth for the interconnected system of space stations orbiting the planet, called The Colony. For three centuries, Earth’s survivors have been confined to these metal walls, waiting for the day that the planet would recover from the fallout of nuclear war. The years in space take their toll on the Colony, though, and its ships begin deteriorating as their vital resources dwindle to perilously low levels.
Humankind’s last hope rests in the hands of its expendable population: 100 teenage prisoners are the Colony’s litmus test for a return to Earth. Strapped with life monitoring bracelets, these thieves, vandals and murderers are sent on a one-way trip to the planet’s surface—human guinea pigs put to the ultimate test. But even if the 100 survive residual radiation, they still have to live together...or die alone. (Sorry, the Lost nerd in me couldn’t resist.)
If the scene quoted at the beginning of this review channels images of Jack Shephard lecturing a ragtag team of Oceanic 815 survivors around a bonfire, you’re not alone. Kass Morgan’s debut novel, The 100 does its best Lost impersonation, with a tinge of the resource/reproduction politics of Terra Nova and the romantic gymnastics (and backstabbing) of Gossip Girl, to boot.* How does this book relate to Lost? Let me count the ways: Ensemble cast featuring alternating viewpoints of four main characters? Check. Lengthy drama, featuring a real-time storyline interspliced with increasingly revealing flashbacks? Check. Romantic shenanigans involving a doctor, a bad boy with a heart of gold, and a fugitive who has done a Very Bad (secret) Thing? Check. Dramatic cliffhanger ending featuring Others? CHECK. If you’re a fellow Lost fan, you might be asking yourself, well what’s the problem? This all sounds pretty freaking sweet, right?
Unfortunately, while Lost packed an amazing emotional punch, featured heartbreakingly wonderful yet flawed characters, and juggled an increasingly complex SFF mythology and world, The 100...well, it does not. Admittedly, the novel has an excellent premise—I love the idea of teenage criminals, most of them wrongfully imprisoned and facing a death sentence as soon as they turn 18, being sent to Earth by a corrupt, desperate government. The alternating viewpoints and the tension onboard the Colony among the different ships (the wealthy Phoenix residents versus the service-working dwellers on the Walden, for example) is a gold mine of potential. Unfortunately, instead of developing these promising threads, The 100 is far more interested in focusing on the melodramatic relationships between its characters: including a love triangle, contrived romantic misunderstandings and copious amounts of impassioned kissing. Which would be absolutely fine, if the writing wasn’t so cringeworthy, all the more disappointing since this is a packaged book. While I’ve read some awesome books produced and written by authors for hire—see Elizabeth Miles’ Fury or Kate Ellison’s The Butterfly Clues—The 100’s execution falls short of the mark, ranging from competent but simplistic to utterly ridiculous.**
All of these criticisms noted, there is a silver lining: I feel like The 100 has the potential to be an amazing, guilty-pleasure TV show. With the right actors, better writing and without the constant, cheesy internal monologuing, The 100’s brand of melodrama is positively Revenge/Vampire Diaries–esque.*** I’ll wait until the fall premiere before passing final judgment on these intrepid teenage convicts.
In Book Smugglerish, a tepid 5 out of 10.
* Bonus Points: the CW television show, which debuts this fall, includes Lost alumn Henry Ian Cusick, aka time travelling hatch-dude, Desmond.
**Each chapter ends with melodramatic declarations worthy of abundant eye-rolling, but my favorites are always from Wells’ point of view, including this doozy: “He didn’t care whether they’d found the missing medicine. There was no drug strong enough to repair a broken heart.”