Partials by Dan Wells
Review by Ryan Lawler
The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.
Sourced from the author’s website (http://thedanwells.com/titles/partials.html)
Dan Wells is probably not the household name he should be. Yet. I have recently finished his John Cleaver series (where I handed out my first perfect score), and this series has convinced me to read anything and everything by Wells without reservation. In his latest outing, Wells has decided to tackle Young Adult Dystopia with Partials, the first book of the Partials Sequence. This book is quite different to his John Cleaver series, it is very slow to start with, but it is a book that rewards perseverance.
Partials is set in a post apocalyptic world, the United States having built an army of self aware androids known as Partials to win their “Isolation” war. Sick of taking horrendous losses under the oppressive human command, the Partials rebelled, creating a genetic virus to wipe out the world’s human population. The human race is barely surviving, all babies die within minutes of being born, the threat of the Partials coming to finish them off is wearing everyone down, the community is starting to fracture.
The story follows Kira, a young girl almost of birthing age, who has seen too many babies die and will stop at nothing to cure this virus. All research avenues have been exhausted long ago, but Kira has a brainwave – the Partials are immune! But Kira is young, the Partials are dangerous, and the government will not support an act of aggression that may lead to another war with the Partials.
I really liked this story, and the bleak background it was set against. Wells has gone to a lot of effort and research to get the science right, and it more than pays off throughout the story. The writing allows you to understand the plight of these people, to feel for them, to root for them in their attempt to find a cure that will end their agony. Layered onto this is the breakdown of the community in factions, the threat of civil war between these factions and the government, and the threat of the Partials deciding to finish the extermination they started years ago.
Wells takes advantage of his world building to craft a well plotted, straight forward medical mystery. Well, straight forward until Wells starts to layer after layer of twists and turns, turning this story into an action adventure, conspiracy theory, medical mystery. Things are quite slow in the first third of this book, Wells taking a lot of care crafting this world and explaining the science, but once everything is established Wells starts to build momentum almost effortlessly, the pages melting away on the back of some clever action sequences and some cool “a ha!” moments where I figured out some big revelations just a few lines before Wells revealed them.
While the plot and setting were well crafted, I really struggled to connect with the characters. They were all very well constructed, they all had layers of complexity, motivations that made sense, but I just didn’t like their personalities. I normally like a stubborn and unreliable protagonist like Kira, but she came across as a whiny caricature of a stereotypical modern teenage girl, made to look strong when contrasted against the stupid adults in the community. This is a personal thing, and it’s probably because I’m not in the target audience, so if you are able to connect with these characters you will absolutely love them.
Partials is an accomplished addition to the YA dystopia genre. This is a complex world full of sciency goodness, and Wells communicates it in a clear and accurate way so that he can build momentum towards an electric conclusion. This should be an enjoyable challenge for the young adult audience, while for adults, if you are able to connect with these characters, you will have a great time reading this book.
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