Catching Fire. In Purgatory.

The Wicked We Have Done - Sarah Harian
It’s hard to gauge the insanity levels of others when you’re so screwed up yourself.

In terms of premise-outcome ratio, this came out on the side of disappointing. What I liked most about this book was that this had ambition. I saw the intention to be different and break traditions and stereotypes in the New Adult genre and was greatly appreciated. What I liked least about the book is that it stopped there. It had vision to had plans. It just failed to launch getting trapped in a messy, under explored storyline.

This is set in the unspecified future when a JJ Abrams fan from the government recently figured out how to use the island in the criminal justice system. Under the silly and hazy scientific pronouncement that the human moral nature doesn’t change with age, The Compass Room is about to be used to determine the “moral compass” of a certain set of criminals: those with dubious motivations and conflicting evidences in their cases, to determine if they will be a bane to civilized society in the future and require prophylactic extermination, I suppose.

What propelled society to turn to this new technology? I don’t know.
What keeps it from being used among non-criminals to pre-emptively prevent them from committing crime Minority Report-style? I don’t know either.
I mean, knowing that it sets such a precedent… okay, I’m gonna stop now.

Sentenced to endure this one-month of moral compassing is an interesting mix of a rapist, an arsonist, a pagan, a torturer and a couple of murderers who all seem to cower in the presence of Evalyn Ibarra who allegedly murdered 52 people in cold blood, including her best friend. 

Which initially made me think of that fairy tale with a tailor who claims “seven in one blow” except she really did kill all those people.

Anyway, this is when the story takes a Hunger Games in Purgatory vibe with very confusing rules, fuzzy motivations for each of the inmates and worse of all, incomprehensible goals as to what is the point of this exercise. 

Because unlike the Hunger Games where it’s a survival game where there will be one winner, in the Compass Room you are being tested through the very crimes that sent you to jail. So its like that LOST episode with Charlie, the recovering heroin addict who finds that plane crash site with the heroin stash in the Virgin Mary figurines. Except here, everybody knows they are being tested but the mechanics and fundamentals of this test were hazily explained. 

Human behaviour is so complex, but here it is oversimplified in trigger objects and chips in the brain that weren’t given proper explanation. The reader instead has to draw conclusions on their own. I can’t even fathom the depths of confusing variables in The Compass Room: things that have been established before elicits surprise and wonder a few chapters after, the obvious details in the plot generate disproportionate concern, interest and confusion among characters (the person you killed is chasing you and you are in a room meant to test your morality, do we really wonder if its an illusion or its a zombie?). There was vivid imagery and violence that just ended up being gratuitous because I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHY AND WHY THESE PEOPLE ARE VOLUNTARILY SUBJECTING THEMSELVES TO THIS KIND OF BAD CRAZY.

There was a healthy smattering of purply prose that I wouldn’t have mind anywhere else except anytime the narrative reverts to these musings, I feel the focus is being allocated inappropriately. The “rooms pregnant with sin”, the “dawn flirting with the skies”…

My body is a furnace. The flames have all but eaten my shell. There’s nothing left of me to feel.

I’m sorry but I’d always pick a comprehensible story over literary masturbation any given day.

I appreciate the lack of insta-love but this still failed convince me in the logic of the romance. It was like the book as a whole was too busy with the avant grade imagery and the japanese horroresque violence that it forgot to infuse some humanity and sympathy into the characters. I feel Valerie was such a wasted character. The few prison scenes this had only highlighted just how little that opportunity was exploited. I mean you have a plot that allows for scenes set in a Women’s Correctional Facility… how can you not capitalize on that?

Evalyn started as a compelling character but gradually lost her claws and teeth towards the end. The reveal of her backstory was womp-wompy and save for her and Casey there was very little moral conflict among this interesting mix of characters when it should have been the driving force of a story like this. 

The concept of this new series is based on Chaos Theory which opens a lot of promising avenues for creativity and provocative thinking on the part of the reader. But as a first instalment, I can’t really say that The Wicked We Have Done exploited the side streets where it mattered.

ARC provided by the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof and may not appear in the final edition.