Saturday, June 4, 2011

Num8ers: The Chaos by Rachel Ward

Although I didn't review British writer Rachel Ward's debut novel Num8ers when it came out last year, I found it intense and fascinating.  Num8ers takes place in a contemporary but dystopian England where a girl named Jem has a strange ability:  when she looks into people's eyes she sees numbers that represent the date of that person's death.  This causes a great deal of trouble for her in terms of the story, as it ultimately leads to her being mistaken for a terrorist .  I thought it was an ingenious idea, though.  Imagine the questions it raises:  is the future preordained?  If you warned someone, could you change their fate? Is there a purpose behind this ability?  What is the cost to Jem of such knowledge?  What makes Jem's situation more intriguing is that she can't see the date of her own death, since of course she can't look herself directly in the eye (mirrors don't work).

Num8ers:  The Chaos could also be called Num8ers:  The Next Generation.  We are now in the year 2026, and Jem has died of cancer.  Adam, her son, is living with his grandmother, with whom he often clashes.  Adam has inherited his mother's ability to see death in a person's eyes, but in his case the power is intensified:  he not only sees the date, he also feels the nature of the death, the emotions and the pain of the process.  Because of this disturbing ability and the isolation of being so freakish, he is a troubled, angry teen.  He's also scared, because after a flood takes down his mother's old home and his Nan insists they move to London, he can't help but notice that almost everyone he meets has the same death date:  January 1st, 2027, and that all of these deaths are traumatic.  Something terrible is going to wipe out London soon, and it's up to misfit Adam to do what he can to stop it.   

I liked this book even more than Ward's first, in part because having set up the situation already, she can now make it increasingly complex.  She adds another point of view, that of Sarah, a girl with big problems and a scary ability of her own. The goverment has grown even more distrustful and controlling, to the point where people are microchipped and can be tracked at all times.  The stakes are higher. The ending is unexpected and riveting.  But it's not only the tension and suspense that are so compelling;  Ward gives her characters a lot of depth and development.  This is a book with substance as well as thrills. Ward is planning a third book in the series, titled Num8ers:  Infinity, which will focus on Sarah's daughter Mia, so altogether the Num8ers series will span three generations.

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