Book Review: Nirvana by J.R. Stewart

Nirvana (Nirvana Series #1)Nirvana by J.R. Stewart
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’d never heard of this author or novel until I came across it on NetGalley and was drawn in by the cover and description. The cover is one of the best I’ve seen in a while and the story puts a very unique twist on the usual young adult dystopian. It’s a great idea but for me the execution lets it down.

The story is set in a Canada of the future with barren landscapes, little in the way of food or resources (unless you’re one of the select few) and the threat of imminent extinction (known as the Annihilation). Larissa Kenders is a soldier at the Barracks who has recently lost her husband Andrew in some very mysterious circumstances. Andrew was a genius scientist employed to try to prevent the Annihilation who went out on a mission and never returned. Despite numerous searches his body was never recovered and Kenders has her doubts about whether he is actually dead.

She dreams about him regularly and when she visits virtual reality (pretty much the only form of entertainment available) he keeps appearing, assuring her that he is always with her. After a couple of unexplainable events she begins to believe Andrew is alive and somehow trapped in virtual reality but could that really be possible or is she just refusing to admit the truth. There is a lot of pressure on her to sign a certificate confirming his death but do her superiors have an ulterior motive. She has a choice, sign the paper and move on or keep searching for him and possibly lose everything.

As I said, I thought this was an excellent idea for a story. The world created is similar in some ways to that in the Hunger Games and a number of other dystopian stories. The population are segregated by class and live separately. The poorest are essentially slaves producing food and other resources at “the Farm”. The military are based at “the Barracks” and, while they don’t have many resources, are relatively well off. The elite, those who have a special talent or money, live a life of luxury in “the Bubble”. The whole system is controlled by a large corporation who have the population living in fear of the Annihilation. The technology is far advanced from what we have now and almost everything from the air, to the view can be created and modified. This raises the huge and fascinating question of if anything you imagine can be created how do you know what’s real and what’s fake?

There are however two major flaws with this story. The first is the lack of dialogue. The narrative is told in the third person and jumps between characters but is mostly what people are thinking or remembering rather than saying. It feels at times like information is being flung at you. For me a good dystopian fantasy reveals the world and the characters slowly and naturally. This is too sudden, lacks depth and therefore doesn’t feel particularly natural or real.

The lack of dialogue also makes it difficult to get a feel for the characters. Kenders seems likeable enough. She is quite determined, intelligent and clearly grieving which leads to some rather questionable decisions. Her friend Serge could have been an interesting character as he’s pretty conflicted. He cares about her and wants the best for her but as he’s been in love with her for years helping her find her husband may not be his number one priority. What wastes it however is yet again that his feelings are completely spelled out and therefore too obvious.

The second issue I had was the description of the technology and virtual reality in particular. I don’t have a particularly great knowledge of technology. I can turn a computer on and use it but don’t ask me how it does what it does. I seriously can’t comprehend wi fi (and as far as I’m concerned it’s magic) so maybe it’s just me but I really couldn’t follow the virtual reality part. I always thought virtual reality was wearing a helmet or plugging into a computer and living in a kind of dream world while your body stays wherever it is. I’m thinking more or less of The Matrix. However, this doesn’t describe it like that. It seems more like the holo deck in Star Trek where you’re completely immersed in what’s happening around you. As the technology is a key element to the story not being able to follow it is a big problem.

I did have an advance reader copy so it’s possible some of these issues will be resolved however based on this I don’t think I will be rushing to read the next in the series. I’d still like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy. If you want to give it a try it will be released on the 10th November.

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