Stars: 1 out of 5.
DNF at 50%.
I think I am done with this author.
This could have been a wonderful book about the price of human experimentation, damaged people, suffering and atonement… it chose to be a weak romance between two unlikable characters instead.
I mean this was a subject matter ripe for the taking. We are talking about a period in the history of USSR when the government was responsible for the imprisonment and deaths of literally millions of its own people. And the author insists that this book was based on a real “closed” city with real events that happened as well. This could have been an exploration of the horrors of human experimentation, of how political doctrine could distort people’s perception of right and wrong, of how even normal people could commit atrocities for a perceived “greater good” of their country.
And Valery was the ideal vessel for that exploration. He was a victim as well as a torturer himself. Yes, he spent six years in a GULAG, so he knows first hand the abuse and total dehumanization that happens there. Yet he also worked with Mengele before WWII and experimented on prisoners. If the author would have made this book about his journey of realization that what he had done before was monstrous and his attempts to atone for this by preventing the horrible experiment happening how in City 40, I would have been happily along for the ride. But it wasn’t. In fact, Valery doesn’t feel guilt about any of his actions before his imprisonment. He justifies it all by saying that “science had to be done.” And you are asking me to care for a character like that? Sorry, no can do.
Unfortunately, we didn’t even get that in this book. We got a lackluster romance for which this city and the horrors committed within are just a backdrop. And it was probably my fault for not reading the tags and realizing it was a romance, but this was definitely not what I had wanted in this book. Especially since this romance feels so forced. The author had to fridge both Valery’s first love interest and the KGB guy’s wife just to make that happen. Plus, as I said, they are both despicable human beings, so watching them grow to care for each other did nothing for me.
Also, does the author hate women? This is the second book I have read from her where all the women are either absolutely awful, unfeeling and domineering towards men, or sweet non-entities who are immediately fridged to provide angst for the male protagonists. Either way, they all end badly. Even the main big bad of this story is a woman, and even though she is so over the top bad, she is the most interesting character in this story, which is sad.
PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.