This is the best piece of YA commercial lit I've ever read.
Books filled with action like this, ones that are obviously marketed exclusively towards reluctant readers and boys (publishing companies typically consider the two to be one and the same) are usually books that I'm warry of, for the obvious reason that I'm not a reluctant reader. I have higher standards than that. I want character development and quality prose; I don't want to read an action movie in book form. Michael Grant's books are the exception, because not only is the action better done than most commercial lit, but everything else is, too. Grant actually cares about the quality of his prose and developing his characters. And that makes his works a lot more interesting to read, and it's the reason that his Animorphs series is so close to my heart.
In terms of plotting, this is basically a standard piece of commercial literature, only really, really good. As with Gone, there's a lot going on here. But Grant does a really good job of allowing the reader to keep up with everything, and as far as I can tell, there were no continuity errors. Moreover, the pacing was great, and the plot was constantly surprising. There are more than one really clever twists here, and I didn't predict a single one. In particular, Astrid's speculation about exactly what the Giaphage is and how it was created was very well done; plausible (okay, if by 'plausible', you mean 'with a very small basis in science'), but also really cool, and the foreshadowing for it couldn't have been better. All this made the plot really engaging and fun to read about.
But maybe 'fun' wasn't the right word, because this book was actually really dark. The villains, while well developed, are very threatening, and the Giaphage is quite scary. There are so few genuinely dark YA books these days (leaving people to have unbelievably low standards for darkness; see compliments to The Demon's Lexicon), it's nice to see a reading experience that's unique by being a little scary.
I think what makes everything so scary is that Grant has done a great job of thinking through his premise. At first glance, its purpose seems obvious: all the adults disappear and kids are developing superpowers. It seems like a lame excuse to have fight scenes without any adults to worry about. But Grant actually developed the premise, and he made sure that everything made sense. Just as much time is spent resolving problems of how the characters get food (hence the title) as there is time spent towards action sequences. There are almost no shortcuts taken here; Grant understands exactly how every aspect of his characters' survival works, and how damn unlikely it is for them all to make it (hence the darkness). And really, I think the action is a natural extension of that, especially when there's a school for the mentally ill around. I find it hard to believe that kids could rule the world and get violent superpowers without resorting to that kind of violence. The book is bettered for the survival elements and the action elements; you can't have just one or the other.
But the best thing that Grant does with his premise is that he explores it not just with plotting, but also with his characters. The scope of this book is huge (I swear, there must be at least 40 characters that we hear about on a regular basis), and almost all the characters are very well rendered. There are so many different personalities here, so many different lenses to look through, that I can't imagine anyone not finding someone they like. I personally have a lot of favorites. I really liked Lana; Grant handled her Mind Rape really really well, and her story here was even more intense than in book 1. I like Edillio of course; everybody does. Diana is also a really great example of a sympathetic villain. Dekka is really great, too; I love how Grant handled her crush on Brianna. Oh, and I can't forget Computer Jack and Bug, both insecure boys who reluctantly fight for Caine and Drake. It's all so interesting.
I also liked that the cast was diverse. Most authors would include maybe a couple minorities, even in this ginormous cast. But Grant handles diversity really, really well. There are multiple people of different ethnicities, sexualities, religions,... all sorts of different walks of life. I liked that there are some people whose status as a minority isn't a big deal (Albert, Howard, Diana), and for others, he acknowledges it and puts it into the plot (Dekka, Eddilio, Little Pete). Each time I read one of Grant's books, I promise I won't mention it again, that I've talked about it enough in other reviews, and every time, I'm impressed once more.
And of course, Grant's writing is great. Actually, I shouldn't say 'of course', because I had mixed feelings about it in book 1, but that's Gone now. Grant's writing is simple, sure, but it can be surprisingly intense at times, and it does a good job of projecting how the characters feel in comprehensible ways. Here's one of my favorite examples:
The memories of his mom and dad, his old life, they were far away. Like photos in an old album. Not quite real. Someone else's memories, his pain; someone else's life, his loss.
The memories of the battle - those couldn't even be called memories because weren't memories something from the past? That day might have happened three months ago, but it wasn't the past to Quinn, it was right here, right now, always. Like a parallel life happening simultaneously with this life. He was driving through the night and feeling the gun buck buck buck in his hands and seeing the coyotes and the kids, all mixed up together, all crisscrossing, weaving through the arcs of bullets.
Finger off the trigger. Too close to shoot. He'd hit the kid. He couldn't do it, couldn't take that chance, and so the coyote had leaped, jaws open, and-
And that wasn't long ago and far away to Quinn. It was right now. Right here.
See what I mean? It's awesome.
If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that the scope was too large. No, I never had trouble keeping track of everything, but there were some plots that felt unnecessary. For example, did we really need the plot with the Human Crew integrated into the main plot? That sub-plot was definitely realistic, and I like that it existed, but couldn't it have been introduced earlier in the book? Because it felt like a distraction, and every once in a while, I felt myself skimming because I wanted to get back to what I really cared about. Also, did we really need Mary's eating disorder? Again, I liked thatsomeone had a disease like that, something that couldn't be treated inside the FAYZ, but Mary had almost no bearing on the plot outside her bulimia, and she really felt unnecessary.
But really, that's no reason to pass this up. This is one of the very best novels that Grant has ever written, and I can't encourage you enough to read this series.