Review: Countdown by Michelle Rowen

September 16, 2013 1 - 1.5 Stars, Horrible Heroines, Hunger Games Redux, Michelle Rowen, Nonsensical, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction 8 ★½

Countdown by Michelle Rowen
Published by Harlequin Teen on October 1, 2013
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
3 seconds left to live. Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped.

2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game.

Kira Jordan survived her family's murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis.

1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it.

Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira's psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan's secrets prove evermore deadly, Kira's only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can't escape.
Kira and Rogan are strangers forcibly thrown into a deadly “game” called Countdown.  They must complete a series of tasks, each within a pre-determined time limit.  Complete the task and move on, or fail it and be killed.  Some of the tasks are puzzle-like, and others are designed to test their morality.  It sounds like an interesting premise, but everything fell apart quickly.

Kira is informed that Rogan murdered and dismembered nine young women.  Any reader will know that this can’t possibly be true.  Why?  Because he’s good-looking.  But Kira believes it, and she’s horrified by this supposed mass murderer.  However, in a very brief span of time, she’s hugging and trying to kiss him and telling him she knows he’s a good person.  Her abrupt, 180 degree change of heart is completely irrational.  I don’t understand why Rowen bothered depicting Rogan as an evil murderer who terrified Kira, only to dispense with the whole thing a few pages later.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the similarly unpleasant Article 5 by Kristen Simmons.  (You can see that review here.)  One of the things that bothered me about that book is that so many of the male characters were portrayed as wanna-be rapists.  I think those characters were somehow transported into Countdown, because many of the men in this book are depicted as leering, slobbering animals who would happily rape Kira if given the chance.  Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that their covers are nearly identical.

We’ve got similarities to The Hunger Games, too, that are impossible to ignore.  From Kira: “I just wanted to let you know that every one of you Subscribers disgusts me.  Why do you sad, pathetic scumbags keep watching this?  They’re forcing us to play.  We have no choice.  You want to see people killed?  You’re sick!  All of you are sick!”  Does this remind you of anything?   Kira and Rogan are paired up as a team initially, but then they are told they must kill each other since there can only be one winner of The Hunger Games.  Whoops!  I mean, of the Countdown game.  If Kira wins the game, she will be given a nice house, sufficient food, and will live out the rest of her life in comfort in District 12.  Whoops!  I mean, if Kira wins the game, she will relocate to a luxury apartment in the swanky environs of The Colony, and she will live out the rest of her life in comfort.  If Kira and Rogan step off their platforms early, they will be blown up.  Whoops!  I mean, if they separate more than 90 feet from each other, they will be blown up.  The game is filmed live for the enjoyment of the Capitol residents.  Whoops!  I mean, it’s being filmed for the enjoyment of the Subscribers.  Caesar…whoops – an unknown narrator – gleefully gives the subscribers a live narration.

Setting aside all of those THG comparisons, I’m still wondering how and why this game is permitted.  It’s an underground, exclusive club, with only the Subscribers aware of its existence.  Kind of like a glorified dog-fighting ring.  But these are people being killed, not animals, and somehow this is all being done under the radar?  At one point, it’s mentioned that prisoners were forced to compete.  Did none of these prisoners have families who wondered why they suddenly disappeared?

And let’s not forget Kira’s super power.  She’s supposed to be an empath with the ability to read others’ emotions.  But somehow, this power only kicks in when it’s convenient to the story.  At other times, when it’s necessary for Kira to be in danger, she is completely unable to read those who would do her harm.

Kira’s not the only one whose behavior makes little sense.  One character, for no reason whatsoever, brags about murdering Kira’s family while Kira is pointing a gun at him.  Not surprisingly, she shoots him, but her aim is off, so he’s only wounded.  He dies shortly after in a fall from a rooftop after a scuffle with Kira, while trying to kill her.  But Kira is not quite sure that the death of this murderer of her family is a good thing, because she says: “I’m glad he’s dead.  Is that wrong?”  No, Kira, you should mourn the death of the guy who slaughtered your family and tried to kill you.

At one point, Rogan says, “I never said it made sense.  None of it does…”  I couldn’t agree more.

Note – I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review posted at Goodreads.


8 Responses to “Review: Countdown by Michelle Rowen”

  1. Whitley Birks

    You know, I wouldn’t mind all these Hunger Games knock-offs so much if they’d at least do something different. There’s a ton of different directions you can go in after that similar premise/starting point.

    • Stephanie K

      And I know that THG isn’t the first to have written about this topic, but I guess it’s the most well-known.

      And you’re right that similarities are fine, because it’s a fantastic concept, but there were just too many other problems with this story.

  2. Nikki

    Ooooh, ouch. This book sounds like a blantant knock-off of THG and it’s really irritating that people aren’t able to get a bit more creative. It’s okay to use a popular book/series as inspiration, but c’mon, at least give us something different. It doesn’t really sound like there’s much depth to Kira or her actions, which is never a good thing. I’m sorry this panned out to be such a stinker!

  3. Stephani Watson

    I feel like the cover is a little awkward..i couldn’t stop staring at her arm..i still want to give this book a chance..but i agree it looks just like the article 5 cover.

  4. yaescapefromreality

    I haven’t read this one yet, but I did get it to review. Hope I don’t hate it as much as you did! What’s interesting is that it was actually first published in 2008 (the same year as The Hunger Games) as an adult novel and it’s been revised (I don’t know how much) and republished and marketed as a YA book. So it looks like a knockoff but I guess it’s really not? Thanks for the honest review! ~Pam

  5. tammy216

    I haven’t read this yet but the comparison to Article 5 has me cringing because I hated that book. I want to give it a chance but I think it will be pretty low on my TBR list. Thanks for the review.