This is part of a review series in which I take a look at some of the other books that were picked up by Harper Voyager at the same time as mine. For all the usual disclaimers, refer back to the first episode in the series :-)
Like last week's The Karma Booth, The Ark is a book that sells itself on the premise alone. (Now I see where I've been going wrong all these years.) The Earth is about to be destroyed and only a select few people will survive, given starpasses that will admit them to one of the five massive spaceships (Arks) that will become their new home. Our protagonist, Char, isn't one of those select few; she's locked up in prison, the black sheep of her otherwise respectable family. But then she gets hold of a starpass …
With a book like this, the tricky part is maintaining the tension even through a certain degree of foreknowledge. I mean, Char is the narrator, so we know she's going to make it onto an Ark before Earth is destroyed; otherwise there wouldn't be a trilogy to read. The author gets round that in two ways in the early chapters of the book: first, by making it more about how Char gets onto the Ark, given that it's leaving soon and she's in prison; and second, by putting a significant secondary focus on the rest of the population – the people who aren't going to be given a second chance. As a result, even though I knew how the story had to go, it genuinely had me on edge. And moved, too – there were some moments when the author really made me see the full scale of the tragedy about to unfold, as desperate people searched for a way for themselves or their children to survive, or gave in to the inevitable and enjoyed their last hours as best they could. I'm not ashamed to say I had tears in my eyes a couple of times.
This first section of the book is really effective, not least because it does the vital job of putting the reader on Char's side. She hasn't always made the best choices, so it would be easy to say she doesn't deserve the chance to live when so many others have to die. But the way she gets hold of her starpass (no spoilers, but it has an emotional impact!) coupled with the frankly terrifying way in which survivors from the general population have been selected (a lottery for "citizens of upstanding status under the age of forty, with no physical, mental, or moral infirmities" … hmm, nice way to utterly devalue older people/the differently abled, and I wonder who decides what qualifies as a 'moral infirmity'?) means you can't help but root for her. The author does a brilliant job of making Char flawed but sympathetic, showing how she came to be where she is without making excuses for her, and her voice is authentically written. I challenge anyone to read the first few chapters and not end up wanting the best for her.
Once Char is on the Ark, the story mutates into a slightly different beast as she struggles to locate the rumoured 'Remnant' (those who have managed to get aboard the ship without having starpasses), reconcile with her family, and avoid getting caught. I can't say much more about the plot without throwing spoilers like confetti, so let's just say we begin to see hints that not all is quite as it seems on the Ark, and the promised utopia of young, fit, 'upstanding citizen' survivors has a darker side.
One thing I really appreciated was that there is no obvious right and wrong: the reader is kept as much in the dark as Char about who can be trusted and who has an ulterior motive, and I constantly found myself switching allegiance when it came to the different groups of characters. This had the added benefit of putting me even more firmly on Char's side as she struggled to do the right thing at the same time as staying alive and free – two priorities that often conflicted and that were hard to judge when everyone she met seemed to have a hidden agenda. It made for a gripping and fascinating read.
The author teases us with hints and revelations throughout the second half of The Ark, keeping some of her secrets for the later books in the trilogy, but there is certainly enough action to keep the reader going right up until they hit the cliffhanger ending. Oh, that ending. I must admit, it made me a little crazy – how you feel about it will depend on how you feel about series where you have to wait until the end of the last book for a resolution – but I will certainly pick up the next instalment in the trilogy when it comes out.
The Ark is available to buy in ebook and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US.