Year One by Nora Roberts is the first book in the Chronicles of the One series—an epic of hope and horror, chaos and magick, and a journey that will unite a desperate group of people to fight the battle of their lives.
I always seem to have both a sense of pride and envy when I read great authors. Pride—because as an author, I love being part of a community that contributes to great storytelling; and envy—because when a great storyteller proves their chops time and time again, I can’t help but feel a teensy, tiny bit jealous that they are so damn talented.
Not that this jealousy would ever stop me from buying a good book.
For me, the single most important factor in any story (other than competent writing) is character. I want characters I love, characters I hate, characters I can feel with—joy, pain, sorrow. When a writer can put me in her creation’s shoes, it’s a win-win—for a few hours, I can live vicariously through anyone. An FBI agent. A reporter. A doctor. A grieving widow. I can be someone else because the author transports me to another world—whether it is our world, the past, the future, or a fantasy.
Nora Roberts is one of the few authors who can do this every time she puts pen to paper. I am willing to walk the road because I’ve read enough of her books in the past to know that she can spin a good tale with characters I feel like I know.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I received an advance copy of Year One—the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy. Fantasy, in that it’s our world but different. Why? I’m not a huge fantasy reader. But because Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb’s In Death series is hands down my favorite continuing series, I knew she could write something different and still satisfy me.
I figured I’d be entertained no matter what, so I gladly picked it up last weekend thinking I would read a few chapters … half a book later, I reluctantly put it down because out-of-town family arrived for Thanksgiving week.
Year One is different. There will be—justifiably—comparisons to Stephen King’s The Stand (which is still my favorite King book). A deadly virus wipes out 99% of the world’s population, and a small group of survivors must band together to defeat evil. But other than the premise—and the fact that both Stephen King and Nora Roberts are masters of character—the similarities end.
In Nora’s world, the deadly virus comes with magic on its heels. Sort of like the television show Heroes where the eclipse brought out latent “talents” in a chosen few, the virus brings out magical traits in many immune to the deadly disease. In fact, a whole new magical world is created against a dystopian backdrop.
What I liked best was that Nora didn’t spend too much time setting the world up. The virus is released in Chapter One—along with a deep sense of foreboding. We meet most of the main characters by the end of the first part of the book—roughly page 75—and sense a bit of what they are up against. This is our world, so there wasn’t a need to set the stage, so-to-speak—we are immediately immersed in the story. Though a trilogy, there’s enough of a resolution to be satisfying while leaving plenty of story to tell.
Those who have gifts of magic are called “uncanny,” and there are, of course, people who hate and hunt them. There is death, violence, pain, suffering, and through it all, hope—which keeps us turning pages to see who lives, who dies, and who betrays.
While there is a large cast of characters, Nora skillfully focuses on three or four groups of people who are the “core” of the story. Whenever she introduces someone knew, it relates with one of our core groups so we don’t feel too lost in what is, truly, a big world. I have my favorite, and I can’t wait to find out what happens to him in the next book!
While I was hesitant at first, I ended up enjoying this new and imaginative world. Nora Roberts fans who enjoyed her Circle, Seven, and Three Sisters Island trilogies where magic is normal and developed as integral to the story will definitely love this trilogy because, even though it’s different, her voice shines through.
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Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Girls and Make Them Pay, among others. She was nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award by Kiss of Death. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Northern California with her husband, five kids, and assorted pets.