I am Private First Class Daniel Christopher Wright.
I am seventeen years old.
And I fired the shot that ended the United States of America.
Who can say no to that come hither tagline?! Who can say no to that tagline AND that kickass cover?! Plus reading and reviewing books in denial, pretending to be something else other than stylized bodice rippers have started to become tedious and repetitive that I have started to actively look for offbeat options.
Atleast I get to complain about something new!
Honestly, I'm still conflicted on how I should rate this. I was really intrigued by the premise and I found Trent Reedy's interpretation of how Civil War can come to America chillingly plausible and timely. At times, it was like imagining what the news will be like five, six months from now. For me, it also managed to skirt around the trap of pushing biased personal politics. This was told entirely from the POV of PFC Wright, and while that could easily spell romanticizing stereotypical Republican sentiments laced with gun porn and 'Murica!, it doesn't take that easy road if you care enough to look closer. And my conflict of rating this stems from my strong… disconnect from of Dany and his Scooby Gang. Which I appreciated because on the one hand it avoided outright Democrat-bashing… but on the other hand I was really alienated from Danny as the main protagonist.
And I'm not sure if that was intentional.
I GOT SOUL BUT I'M NOT A SOLDIER
In the eerily familiar future, Congress has passed The Federal Identification Card Act which replaces Social Security cards in order to "streamline and simplify access to federal services and provide easy proof of legal eligibility for employment". The State of Idaho, however protests the constitutionality of such card as it also contains, apart from personal information, a chip that allows for the tracking of the card's bearer.
I find this backdrop quite interesting but I'm going to leave the poking of the politics to the brave and focus on the story instead.
PFC Danny Wright, a high school senior trainee for the National Guard, receives a phone call one night activating him for duty to help with crowd control in a violent protest rally in Boise. Most of the Idaho Army National Guard has been deployed to fight the war in Iran, forcing the state government to tap their younger enlistees. It was supposed to be a simple enough mission that led to a night of violence leaving twelve people dead and nine injured from gunshots set off by Danny accidentally discharging his weapon on the protesters.
The POTUS demands for the names and punishment of those involved but the Governor insists that they were just doing their job and opts to protect the identities of his soldiers. The rest of the country offered opinions both and against either parties but Danny is hell bent on keeping his secrets and his senior life normal: he's caring for his mentally unstable mother, he means to propose to his high school sweetheart JoBell, his time is occupied with football and the rodeo. As the tension between the State and Federal government reaches fever pitch with Idaho barricading itself from its neighboring states, Danny's forced to make choices as a consequence of other men's own choices. Men with higher power, brandishing higher calibers of weapon from his standard issue M4. Men with the power and mandate to tear his country apart.
"Once blood is spilled, we're stuck in the fight for the long haul. If we work out a compromise, then what was the point of all those casualties?"
I find the book quite polished. The cover is gorgeous and intriguing and while some of the supposed photos in my ARC just ended up as gray boxes in my ereader, I find the incorporation of comments and uploaded pictures in public forums by random citizens and news reports refreshing. It reflected the growing tension and how mob justice in social media and reality become parasites that feed into each other's frenzy quite cleverly. The pre-dystopian America Reedy created was simultaneously exciting and horrifying. The prospect of having Benedict Cumberbatch or Tina Fey as my personal digi-assistant reading my mail? Yes please. The idea of every news agency having devolved as Fox News clones?
Though it does reflect on how sensational journalism operates. How it stokes popular sentiments and emotions to its whim. As the story progressed, it became less about the shooting and gradually became about the NRA sticker in Danny's co-worker's desk or the safety violations in the place he works in and so on.
I also enjoyed the genuine portrayal of democracy in a believable crisis presented here. It was fascinating to see how the bigger picture of the ID card argument between the State and Federal government bleeds and trickles down into the most rudimentary units of society. It stretches a lot of rules in logic but made the story somewhat entertaining.
I had real big issues with Danny. He started off okay for someone who calls his truck "Beast". He was someone with patriotic ideals with small town values shoved in a situation that became bigger than his good intentions. He just wants to serve his country, while playing football and fooling around with his liberal girlfriend JoBell. There was a vulnerability in him highlighted by his moral conflicts that unfortunately started to fade in the background as the story progressed.
He starts to evolve into a Gary Stu character where the entire State of Idaho seems to be revolving around his whims and his needs. He has the governor on speed dial, he has the sheriff at his beck and call to do his bidding, he and his friends try to escape the federal authorities in a car chase that leaves someone dead, he gets a pat on the back. He's bulletproof from the Constitution.
Danny struggles to maintain his normal routine throughout the conflict so while the President and the governor of Idaho are butting heads,he's partying, playing football, target shooting at his girlfriend's backyard while the world watches on. He wails about the media twisting his story but he isn't exactly playing his cards smart. He swings from being self-deprecating to calling his principal an asshole... Because of his poor fashion choices. He starts to distance himself from his increasingly rash behavior and its repercussions. Suddenly its EVERYONE's fault except his. Does this somehow relate to the breakdown of his values and character because of the mounting pressure from outside? It didn't really seem so, sadly. Instead, all I see is a boy with patriotic fantasies slowly unravelling as who he really is: a douchewad with phenomenal bouts of idiocy.
I liked that this had two parallel stories going on: the political conflict and the locals' struggles, unfortunately Danny's function to bridge both sides as a soldier and a high school senior wasn't seamless and ended this side of bizarre. Idaho secedes from the US government and Danny has to choose which master to serve so he calls his Scooby Gang to throw a party.
He somehow manages to get himself to these action movie situations (i.e. Car chases, open fire combat etc.) that gives him the opportunity to bust out these ultra-cheesy lines that just gives me goosebumps. And hives. In ONE car chase sequence he dished out the following sound bites:
"Everybody hold on. This is going to get rough!"
"Oh you did not just scratch up my truck!"
"You want war? We will give you war!"
Michael Bay would be so proud.
The POTUS and the governor's exchange of posturing dialogue didn't fare any better and just made them come across caricaturish.
I did like most of Danny's posse though I am not a big fan of them getting wedged in on the action for no reason other than comic relief and the threat of a love triangle in the next book. PLEASE DON'T GO THERE. If there's anything going for this book, it's the intriguing premise. No need to incorporate THAT trope to make it worse.
This ended on a cliffhanger, keeping in the tradition of cheesetastic one-liners. I want to be hopeful for this series. To be fair, the first half was pretty gripping and had good intentions in what it was presenting. However, it was the assholization of Danny in the second half that did this in. It may have made the book successful in keeping itself from bring partisan to a particular political sentiment but it spelled much piss-offerizationism on my part as a reader.
ARC provided by Arthur Levine Books thru NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review. Quotes may not appear on the final edition.