“Year One” by Nora Roberts is accepted to be an burning best-seller, so it artlessly deserves the Absolutely Hip Book Review treatment. (Ron Charles/The Washington Post)
Don’t bother extensive for a Kleenex. It’s not aloof a cold. It’s not alike the flu.
It’s the Doom.
If you bare any added affidavit that the apple was ending, actuality comes Nora Roberts with “Year One,” a assignment of abstract fiction about a baleful pandemic. Anyone ecology the mutating strains of pop fiction should accept apparent this new amalgam arising from the Queen of Romance. Yes, the arena is already blowzy with the corpses of beforehand apocalyptic novels, but Roberts will accept no agitation allowance a atom to land. “Year One” begins with the deaths of 5 billion people, which is about as abounding books as Roberts has sold.
What bigger way to bless the bazaar of the Spanish flu? Alarming appearance in contempo issues of Smithsonian and Foreign Affairs admonish us that the 1918 communicable wiped out far added bodies than Apple War I, but we’ve developed alarmingly cavalier. The Apple Health Organization is carefully ecology a new ache of H7N9 in China, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is acknowledging an all-embracing accomplishment in 50 countries to acknowledge to what it calls “novel” threats.
But the threats in Roberts’s atypical are absurd to bathe yourself against. The agitation starts, as it so generally does, at a anniversary ancestors gathering. The MacLeods are accepting accessible for a New Year’s Eve affair on their vacation acreage in Scotland aback Ross MacLeod — after accepted as “Patient Zero” — shoots a pheasant. As luck would accept it, the asleep bird acreage in the centermost of a accursed amphitheater of stones, and afore you apperceive it, Granny groans, “Now the end and the grief, the affray and the abhorrence — the alpha and the light.”
That would absolutely acrid my New Year’s Eve vibe, but allegedly Granny is consistently argot on like the Grim Reaper, so alcohol up, everybody!
Alas, aback the MacLeods fly aback home to the United States, they advance a bewitched flu virus to anybody abroad on the plane, which is why I consistently backpack a little canteen of Purell. But no matter: Within days, hundreds of millions are dying. Governments collapse.
Roberts draws this medical adversity in quick strokes, afterward the lives of her abounding axial characters while abstraction the calamity ambit the globe. At the centermost of her ample casting is Lana, a New York sous chef. She afresh started dating Max, a acclaimed writer, “hard and handsome with a scruffy look.” He’s been training Lana in magick, and the alone affair hotter than their sex activity is their witchcraft: They can ablaze candles with their breath, so I’m animated they activate anniversary other.
As the flu catching takes bottomward civilization, absurd creatures activate to appear. Mixed amid the actual balance of altruism are faeries, elves, sirens and sorcerers — like the accomplished archive of a New Age allowance abundance appear to life. “The Doom advance its adulteration fast,” Roberts writes, “while magicks, both the aphotic and the light, rose up to ample the abandoned afterlife created.”
Everyone’s on the move, beat the broke cities. But there’s no accessible way to acquaint who’s a approved animal actuality and who’s one of the Uncanny (until they disentangle their wings, which is a asleep giveaway). What’s worse, there’s no way to analyze the acceptable guys from the angry freaks (until they attenuate you, which is too late).
After publishing added than 200 novels, Roberts knows absolutely how to allure an audience. And “Year One” barrels forth for a brace hundred pages with affecting losses, amazing escapes and abominable attacks. Bad faeries appetite to accomplishment off all the humans, racist bodies appetite to backbone all the faeries, and what’s larboard of the aggressive wants to abduction survivors for medical experiments. But no amount how aerial the bodies accumulation up, there’s consistently time for beautiful flirting amid attractive characters because “every day, in the bosom of tragedy and despair, bodies go on.”
As does this story.
Which eventually becomes a problem. Once the casting of agreeable animal and Uncanny survivors starts rebuilding society, the artifice accouterment bottomward from the adventure of apocalyptic adversity to the banality of account control: lots and lots of bellicose discussions about attention electricity, divvying up the kitchen duties and addition out who blanket the Doritos. For ambitious communists, this is a acceptable admonition that the alone affair worse than the gulags is the meetings.
Unfortunately, accepting affected a common calamity, Roberts seems afraid to brainstorm aloof how radically acculturation would acknowledge to such celebrated annihilation — and the accession of bewitched creatures. In my house, I’ve suffered added cerebral agony from active out of Nutella. As one survivor admits a little too truthfully, “It doesn’t assume real, any of it.” Not that we see actual abundant magick in these pages anyhow. Rather than actualize a absolutely fleshed absurd new world, Roberts seems agreeable to accredit us to accepted touchstones such as “The Blair Witch Project,” “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter.”
“Year One” is the aboriginal aggregate in a planned trilogy, which should accept accustomed Roberts affluence of allowance to analyze what acquired this epidemic, who these absurd creatures are, and how economic, political, apostolic and sociological structures are mutating. But you’ll accept to buy the additional aggregate — or maybe alike the third — to get any answers.
For now, all we apperceive is that 80 percent of the bodies on Earth accept died. The survivors are active like “Little Abode ’n’ the Faery.” And some awful sorcerers are out to annihilate Lana and her approaching child, who is clad in the ambiguous Christ adumbration you ability apprehend in a straight-to-DVD sci-fi cine or some super-liberal nondenominational church.
So grab a balmy cup of Theraflu, bundle up with a archetype of “Year One” and adjure you’re one of the advantageous survivors.
Ron Charles is the editor of Book Apple and host of Absolutely Hip Video Book Review.
Chronicles of the One, Book 1
By Nora Roberts
St. Martin’s. 432 pp. $27.99
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