Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Last One

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Random House: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101965085

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva is a very, very good debut novel about a contestant in a survival reality TV show during an apocalyptic plague. It is a brilliant, shrewd, clever, astute novel.  Very highly recommended.

In the opening of The Last One, you know that people are going to be dying from an unknown illness.  As a new survival reality TV show is starting, people behind the scenes are dying. They try to get everyone out, but the contestants are on solo challenges and spread out across the wilderness area. The first chapter goes to a female contestant nicknamed Zoo. She is alone and trying to find the next clue during what she believes is a long solo challenge. She has been sick for several days, she thinks from bad water, so she knows she must be behind the others. Zoo is sure that the signs of destruction and distress she encounters are staged for the TV show.

Alternate chapters show the beginning of the show, introduce the characters for the program and their nicknames. These chapters go through the first week of filming for the program, during group challenges. In-between the chapters that cover the early action in the show, are the present day chapters where Zoo is looking for anything marked with light blue, the color for her clues in the show. She is trying to make her way to the next clue and sure that everything she encounters is tied into the show and are props - including bodies. Also included in the narrative are snippets from a fan forum for the TV show, which become important.

This is one intelligent, insightful post-apocalyptic novel. The world has changed, but we are viewing it through Zoo's eyes - and she is sure bodies are props and the things she encounters are staged. It's all for the production. We see in the early show chapters how encounters and actions are edited out or edited to change the viewers perception. Zoo is competitive enough to stay in the game and keep playing by the rules. The rules and the idea that she is still in a survival game cloud her judgement and undermine her intuition. The only way out of the show is to quit, and Zoo is determined to stay in the game and win the million dollars. She can explain away everything she sees as being part of the game.

The writing is incredible. Olivia's novel becomes reality and it is easy to see why Zoo believes the show is still ongoing, even when the surroundings seem to scream something is wrong. At the same time, the insights into Zoo's character are perceptive, discerning, and adroit. Zoo lets us know more about her inner most thoughts as the novel progresses. She is a fully developed character placed in an unbelievable situation that she encounters while thinking on some level that it is all staged.
This is likely to be on my top ten list for the year.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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