Sarah's Reviews > Nil

Nil by Lynne Matson
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really liked it
bookshelves: arc

After a slow start, I felt that this book really took off in the second half to become a compelling, exciting read. The premise is a hard one to pull off successfully - the plot device of a door to another world, with specific people targeted and rules to follow, works well in fantasy where no scientific explanations are needed, but can be unconvincing in a SF context. I found Gone didn't work for me and neither did the TV series Lost or Flash Forward - all had intriguing, exciting premises that were great at first but hard to sustain once the writers had to provide believable explanations and consistent world building. Nil was the opposite experience for me - it felt contrived and unbelievable at first (similar to Gone with the kids-only premise) but as the narrative progressed I was completely drawn into the world which helped me to suspend disbelief. (view spoiler)

The characters are generally well defined although a little shallow. Despite the fact that the protagonists are both conventionally gorgeous (a tired cliche in contemporary YA fiction and surely not what most readers want) the romance is convincing and tolerable and they are likable leads. Their relationship is crucial to the plot and yet does not completely dominate it; although I thought the romance slowed down the first half a little too much. Charley's perceptive ideas about the gate patterns give her more substance as a character as does her relationship with Natalie - she is not just defined by her romantic relationship.

The inhabitants of Nil are drawn from a variety of countries, which is great, but there is an overwhelming Anglocentric dominance in culture, language and religion (the consistently Christian ceremonies for the dead are not challenged by characters of other religions or atheists). The ethical code of the island (that people who have been there longer get priority for catching a gate) is a potentially great plot device, as it forces characters to make tough moral choices, but this is not developed as extensively as I would have wished. The only character who dares to try to deliberately steal someone else's gate is portrayed as a selfish villain. The factions and politics of the island community and their potential for interesting and morally ambiguous conflict are not explored in much depth and I think this was another missed opportunity, as was the question of pregnancy and babies born on the island. It is discussed by the heroes (they abstain from sex out of fear of pregnancy) but I can't imagine that everyone would have the same self control.

A few other aspects of the book also bothered me. The first half is necessarily heavily expository but I found that the switching viewpoints and focus on the romance slowed it down too much. There is a curious obsession in the first half of the book with personal grooming - from Charley's overwhelming desire to bathe after her first twelve days alone in the wilderness to the lengthy descriptions of home-made makeup and fancy hairdos for the 'Nil night' celebrations. And the technology the characters have left behind seems outdated. When was this written? Do teenagers still have ipods, because all my students use their phones for their music. And the quaint way they exchange addresses rather than emails or even just promising to look each other up on Facebook. Why wouldn't they assume that there's an easy-to-find Nil survivors reunion website or Facebook page? I can see that the addresses are an important back-up when you're desperately in love, but other method of communication don't get much of a mention.

About half way through the book, the exposition seems to end and the plot takes off. The romance remains an important part of the story but is secondary to mapping the gates and the desperate race for characters to escape before their time is up. And at this point I suddenly found it much more engaging. I couldn't put it down and desperately wanted to know how things ended for all the characters. The stakes become higher and characters die - not just secondary characters there to demonstrate how dangerous Nil can be, but major players. I cared so much about so many of the characters by the end that the book had an emotional resonance I would not have expected. I found myself desperately hoping that the ending would be perfect, which is an indicator of how much I was enjoying the story, and I was not disappointed. This seems to be a rare stand-alone YA SF novel - it was such a pleasure to read something that actually ends and is not must the first part of a needlessly stretched-out trilogy. But I would definitely read more in a series about Nil, particularly if future books addressed some of issues I felt were insufficiently developed in this one; and I will also be looking out for more books by this author.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2014 – Shelved
January 1, 2014 – Shelved as: arc
January 1, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Lauren (new) - added it

Lauren A really thoughtful review! I'm glad you liked this one overall despite numerous problems. Or at least questions that the author left unexplored - I really like your commentary on religious practices, sex and modern communication. I agree that this would have been easier to manage as straight fantasy vs science fiction with a basis in reality. It sounds like once the story became more of a thriller it got a lot more interesting. But I'm still not sure I could make it to that point. However the fact that this got better for you is encouraging.

Leigh Collazo Sarah, I seriously could not have said this better, and the religion stuff isn't something I had noticed but is totally true! Well done. Do you blog? I am not seeing a blog link on your GR account.

Sarah Thanks for your comments, Leigh and Lauren. No I don't blog - one of those things I keep meaning to start but never seem to find the time for!

Leigh Collazo Sarah--I truly encourage you to give blogging a try. Your reviews are very insightful and well-written, and I know you would make a great blogger. There are certainly lots of book blogs out there, but you have something many do not--TALENT.

I didn't blog, either, until one day, I just started a very simple template blog in Blogger. I knew ZERO about blogging or using Blogger at the time, and even now, I do it more for fun and community than anything else. Blogging has opened some doors for me--I now review for School Library Journal, present librarian staff development, and serve on the Spirit of TX librarian committee. None of that would have happened if I had never started blogging. It gave me the confidence boost I needed to apply and seek out some of the great opportunities for writers out there. Best of all, I've made lots of connections with other librarians and book-lovers from all over the world. Start small, and you'll be surprised how much fun it can be!

Sarah Thanks for the advice and inspiration, Leigh. I think I will have to finally take the plunge this year and start blogging (although I have a big interstate move and new teaching job to start in the next two weeks, so maybe not right this minute...) I have checked out your blog and really like the format you use for reviews and lots of the different sections you have.

message 6: by Terry (new)

Terry Gibson Wow! That was some review, Sarah. It certainly seems an interesting book; well worth reading. I shall try to do so, soon.


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