Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Not a Drop To Drink - Review



I’m going to be honest. I picked this book up because of the title (it's a great title) and I bought it because of the blurb. On that alone this book is a success. Author Mindy McGinnis paints a grim world filled with thirst, danger and death. A frontier living story at its core, Not a Drop to Drink is also touched with flavors of military adventure, romance, survival, and dystopia. In a world filled with Dystopian novels, McGinnis’ novel is refreshingly different. There’s nary a hint of sci-fi, or death rituals target at teens. Scandalous, I know. What was her agent thinking?

McGinnis has a lot of skill as a writer. She has a clipped, clean style free of overly flowery prose that I really enjoyed. She has a good sense of pacing and action as can be seen in the open and close of the book. Despite being light on plot in the middle, the book remains interesting with characters purifying water, preserving food, building shelters and treating diseases so that it never feels like things have stagnated, which was really impressive to me.

The characters themselves are interesting, though here is where Not a Drop To Drink starts to show its flaws. McGinnis’s small cast of other characters is largely likable but a little flat. You have the love interest, the dependent, the crazy mom, the grandma, and the old coot and none of them really move beyond those tropes.

The main character Lynn is a beautiful (naturally), cold-blooded crack-shot. To be honest she’s also a straight up murderer—a character I’ve never had much ability to sympathize with. She’s been blasting strangers trying to approach the pond she and her mother ruthlessly protect for years. Now a teen, she’s killed dozens of people, without knowing if they were actually anything more than thirsty people looking for water. The author paints this as acceptable, since Lynn and her mother are just “surviving” despite the massive amounts of surplus they have available, something I found reprehensible and inhuman.

Where the book also falters is in some inconsistencies. Now, I blame this more on the editor than the writer here, as it’s specifically the editor's job to root out such things. In one section it mentions a field of flowers Lynn has seen from her roof-top sniper perch but never visited. Later she’s suddenly an expert on the surrounding area for hundreds of miles in every direction. She can shoot an enemy in complete darkness at a range of hundreds of feet, but can’t shoot someone six feet away through the ceiling of her house. She’s paranoid enough to consider killing someone she knows when he comes walking towards her property but doesn’t fight when some strange aggressive men approach her with an unfamiliar hostage. There are numerous little things like that throughout, which unfortunately weaken an interesting story.

The author also neglected to do enough research. She has packs of coyotes menace the farm. Having lived in the Southwest my whole life I know coyotes are solitary animals, except for females with pups. They will occasionally band together for a quick hunt but never longer than that. McGinnis also shows a lack of knowledge regarding guns. Normally this wouldn't be a problem except guns are an integral part to the plot so her ignorance is glaring. The characters constantly “cock” their rifles, something that modern rifles don’t do (much less future ones). Bullets leave smoking holes and ignite containers of gasoline. No one ever loads, reloads or even checks the loads on their guns. They carry no ammo and don’t count their shots like a real shooter would.

There are a few other things. I’d worry about spoiling this point but it’s so… well, I’ll let you decide: The villains run some sort of rape-for-trade settlement which is frequented by everyone in the area, despite their brutal treatment of everyone and standard policy of stealing everything from everyone they encounter—so… yeah… I have no idea how they have anyone to trade with or how they keep customers… but there you have it.

As I mentioned, the short comings in this book are the fault, not of the talented author, but of the editor, who should have caught the inconsistencies, and miss-information and insisted on their being corrected. All in all, Not a Drop To Drink isn’t a bad book, it’s just not great either. That said, I’d be very curious to read something else by the author to see how she improves with practice.

What to know: There is a bit of cursing / foul language in the book. The concepts of sex and rape are acknowledged as existing but are more hinted at than explained outright. There is a generous helping of violence and gore that some sensitive readers might find disturbing.

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~SJA

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