Mayhem Press, 2013, 720 pages
The stakes are high...Ten strangers, recruited by an edgy new reality show and marooned on an abandoned island overrun by wildlife. One dies in a horrible accident. Nine realize they are all past survivors, alive only because they've beaten incredible odds once before. One by one, their hidden secrets are revealed. Eight discover they are trapped. Caught in a game so deadly that the most terrifying experiences of their lives were only its qualifying round, they must now face the greatest danger on the island... each other. And one of them is not who he or she claims. Seven fight to escape. Six try to solve the mystery of who lured them there and why. Five... Four... Will anyone survive New Year Island?
This book was great and also terrible. I believe it was indie-published, which explains its high concept thrill-ride premise, and its super-short chapters and the terrible characterization. By that I mean each character was a distinct personality, but basically an assembly of background history, dark secrets, and personality traits that animated the cast like plot puppets fixedly acting out their roles regardless of what outrageous or ridiculous things happened to them.
The premise of New Year Island is that ten (seemingly) random people receive an invitation to participate on a reality show for a $5 million prize. Being told almost nothing else about it, they gather on a luxury mega-yacht supposedly owned by the brand new media corporation that is hosting the show, and before they've even all signed on, the yacht is steaming towards their destination: Año Nuevo Island, off the coast of Northern California. They are given a recorded speech by "Julian," their billionaire host, who explains almost nothing about the game or the background, but nonetheless gives them a series of increasingly dangerous tasks to complete.
The cast is an interesting and volatile lot, and it's soon clear that all of them have more baggage than an Airbus 380 to Dubai. They've all been through horrific, traumatic experiences, from the court martialed ex-Special Forces soldier to the Columbian drug lord's son, to the survivor of the Loma Prieta earthquake who was buried under the rubble for days with her dead parents. There's a golden girl beauty contestant star athlete and academic prodigy, a butch rock climber who survived hanging off a cliffside for two days, a drug addicted doctor, a whistleblowing investment banker, an Amazon Krav Maga expert who runs a battered women's shelter, and an ex-con who turns out to be a sex offender who will repeatedly sex offend over the course of the book. And he's not even the main villain. Neither is the giant great white shark or the killer elephant seals.
This interesting premise and unlikely cast of characters sets off a chain of events as the competition gets more vicious, and inevitably, violent. The novel, with its bite-sized chapters, has a nice page-turning "Now wtf?" quality about it.
And it goes from implausible in the beginning to completely batshit crazy in the final few chapters. The story requires everyone to carry the Idiot Ball for a while, and everyone does. Long after it becomes clear to anyone with even a teenager's understanding of how the world works that this "reality show" cannot possibly be legit, they are all in deep shit, and nobody is gonna get paid, they still find ways to convince themselves to keep playing. Relationships and emotions snap back and forth at the drop of a hat because the story demands it. Ridiculous, comic book-level feats get characters out of some situations, and thrust them into hazards created by a villain who'd have to be Dr. Doom, Hannibal Lecter, and Machiavelli with a side of Deadpool all rolled into one in order to pull these schemes off. The villain's motives, when finally revealed, are even less realistic than the motivations that have been driving the other characters for the latter half of the book. Nobody behaves the way a sane and rational adult would upon realizing what sort of a shitfest they have been thrown into. Characters trust or mistrust one another based not on any sober observations and risk calculations, but based on who the author needs to get screwed over this chapter.
As much as I enjoyed this book as a ridiculous popcorn-worthy thriller, I was constantly wanting to yell at the ridiculousness of it, and the last few chapters just dialed that up to eleven. It read like an inflated and somewhat polished NaNoWriMo novel.
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