Series: Heart of Dread # 1
Published by Putnam Juvenile on September 17, 2013
Genres: Paranormal, Post-Apocalyptic, YA
From New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston comes this remarkable first book in a spellbinding new series about the dawn of a new kind of magic.
Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.
At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.
But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.
My first inkling that I might be in for some trouble came right at the outset when we’re introduced to the heroine, Natasha. She’s a blackjack dealer, and I was struck by the fact that life in this frozen wasteland seemed very much business as usual. I can accept that people will still want to have fun following an apocalypse, but everything seemed so normal and upbeat, it was hard to believe that there was danger outside the casino doors. What was the point of creating this frozen world? In fact, the danger seemed to come more from murderous humans and scary monsters (that aren’t adequately explained) than from the environmental factors.
Natasha wants to escape from the cozy confines of her blackjack job to seek out a mysterious place called “The Blue.” She enlists the assistance of Ryan and his fellow group of mercenaries to escort her there. Ryan and Natasha’s interactions are marked by awkward and juvenile flirting galore in exchanges like this:
“Told you, there’s more more to me than meets the eye.” He smiled, flirting with her again, in spite of himself.
“Can’t be much,” she said slyly.
“Want to find out?” he said playfully.
“Maybe,” she said, and his stomach flipped.
And this one:
“Who said I had a girlfriend?” he said, raising his scarred eyebrow. His dark eyes crinkled.
“No one,” she said.
“Well, I don’t anymore, if anyone’s interested.”
“Are you?” He looked her straight in the eye.
“I could ask the same of you,” she scoffed.
“So what if I was? Interested, I mean.” He shrugged.
And it goes on and on. Are you swooning? I didn’t think so. I felt like I was repeatedly getting hit over the head with the idea that these two are attracted to each other. In the midst of all the awkward flirting are half-hearted attempts by each of them to double-cross the other. There is a lot of: “Hmmm, he/she is really cute, but I still plan to trick him/her into giving me what I want.” Come on, now – I didn’t buy it for one second, and neither will you.
Ryan’s gang is filled with bland characters who fall firmly onto the sides of good or evil. Almost immediately upon setting out with Natasha, there is vicious in-fighting among the guys. They have such differing beliefs, and the evil ones are perfectly willing to kill the good ones. I couldn’t help but wonder how they have managed to stay intact as a group until now.
If I was a DNF’er, I would have given up on this book pretty early on. But I stuck through until the end, hoping for some reward for my efforts. However, the ending took an odd, paranormal twist that was not well-explained. A story about a frozen wasteland has great potential, but I’m going to have to wait, it seems, to see that potential fulfilled.
Review posted at Goodreads.