Sixteen-year-old Ren is a daredevil mobile racer who will risk everything to survive in the Ward, what remains of a water-logged Manhattan. To save her sister, who is suffering from a deadly illness thought to be caused by years of pollution, Ren accepts a secret mission from the government: to search for a freshwater source in the Ward, with the hope of it leading to a cure.
However, she never expects that her search will lead to dangerous encounters with a passionate young scientist; a web of deceit and lies; and an earth-shattering mystery that’s lurking deep beneath the water’s rippling surface.
Jordana Frankel’s ambitious debut novel and the first in a two-book series, The Ward is arresting, cinematic, and thrilling—perfect for fans of Scott Westerfeld or Ann Aguirre.
3 1/2 stars
Thank you to Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books for this eARC! This book is now available.
Can you suspend your disbelief well? If so, then read on. If not … this book may not be for you.
The story starts out with a three years earlier prologue, where a 13 year old Ren is sneaking out of her orphanage to go race in her first mobile race. In this we learn that she is immune to the deadly illness that is ravaging the Ward for one reason or another, and that the Ward is actually what’s left of Manhattan though most of it is underwater. The important points are that she shouldn’t be able to race at 13 (but she’s going to), she is “un-adoptable” because she … doesn’t like people? (I didn’t really understand that; after all she’s IMMUNE, someone’s going to notice she doesn’t get sick and she’d be the prized stallion by that alone.), she hates this girl called Aven who’s always hanging around her and she will never work for the government as a mole, informing on who’s sick in the Ward so the peacekeepers (or Blues) can come and arrest them, since being a contagious carrier of the illness is now a crime.
Cut to three years later, when Ren is now an undefeated mobile racer who was never adopted despite all her fame and fortune who loves Aven, her “sister,” more than anything else in the world, so much so that she became a mole for the Blues to keep her safe and fed. Do you see how some disbelief could be cutting in? Ren is at once everything she said she would be and everything she said she wouldn’t be. She also looses the first and only race we see her in, because the Blues tell her to go searching for freshwater. She ends up almost dying in the attempt, but lo and behold–she finds it. Freshwater. Freshwater with powerful, secret properties.
The world-building throughout this story was rather iffy, but it never really bothered me that much. I tend to be really easy on world building as long as I can’t poke huge holes in it, and I got enough as the story went on to breeze through it really quickly. It’s just better if you don’t think about it too hard. I thought it was a really cool idea, and I just ran with it.
The plot itself was okay as well; not great, but not desperately horrible. The focus is really on Ren and her personal struggles, while connecting to the larger problem of the disease filled Ward. Though it would have been easy to find this annoying, I found that Ren’s debate over saving just Aven or the whole Ward refreshing. I think protagonists too easily accept sometimes that it is their destiny to save the entire world. Ren’s only goal was to save Aven from the sickness, and her zeal to heal the Ward stemmed from that. Her constant flip-flopping about whether it would be safer to just save Aven is also realistic and unique, and I enjoyed the fact that her character explored the possibility of saying to Hell with the rest of the world and just saving what mattered to her.
Besides Aven and Ren, however, the other characters in this story were pretty weak and verged on the stereotype. Very few had their motives explored, and their use and actions were fairly shallow. This was particularly annoying in the love interest, Derek. I much rather enjoyed Ren’s friendship with the scientist Callum, which was more real and at least made sense. Ren even liking Derek at all didn’t seem to have much of a basis. I certainly didn’t.
All in all, I’d recommend this to people looking for an unique dystopian to breeze through. Don’t come to it looking for rock solid writing, but rather for a fast-paced adventure in a unique location that asks real questions in the actions of its characters. This might not be one to buy, but if you see it at your library I strongly suggest that you give it a go.