Book Review – ‘Nil Unlocked’ (#2 Nil) by Lynne Matson

Island survival with a sci-fi twist.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 448

On the island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die. Rives is now the undisputed Leader of Nil City, but keeping the City united is tougher than ever.

Raiders have grown bolder, supplies are dwindling, and non-human inhabitants have taken a turn toward the deadly. New arrivals cause rifts within the City, putting the Search system at risk, and calling everything Rives knows into question. Desperate for answers, he teams up with the only other person searching for them: Skye, a new arrival with a mysterious past of her own. Soon the duo find themselves locked in a desperate race to save all the residents of Nil—and possibly destroy the island forever. But at what cost? And who will pay the price?

We revisit the island of Nil following a new protagonist Skye – whose father is obsessed with the myth of the island after his brother was taken by the portals to Nil in their childhood and kept a journal of his experiences. Our second perspective is that of Rives, who was introduced in the first novel of the franchise.

I enjoyed this a little better than the debut because we get more of the mythology and reasoning behind the behaviour of the island, the portals, and the carvings on the island. It is still an all-out survival game against all manner of beasties and the elements, but this felt more grounded in a concept for me.

Nil Unlocked’ also touches on an interesting theme of white colonisation and interference with the natural order of things, and the slow eroding of native/aboriginal beliefs and culture. Even though there is a large representation of races and languages that get taken by the portals to Nil, it is still a predominately white and American presence. That in itself urked me – looking at the land mass and population distribution across the planet, if the capturing of teens abducted to Nil, white Americans should be a minority. There is also still a bit about the mythology that has gaping holes in the way things happen, how it came to exist, it really feels like we’re just scratching the surface. I’m hoping there will be answers in the last book of this series ‘Nil on Fire.’

If you were hoping the series would follow the protagonists from the debut ‘Nil,’ Charley and Thad, we do get a few scenes with Charley which adds to the plot, however, Thad is still missing in action. I’m sure we’ll get some resolution in the final instalment.

The action scenes, survival stories, and group dynamics are really well crafted in this collection. Lynne Matson has got some serious writing chops. The thing that let me down the most was we weren’t given enough to ground the story in plausibility in connection to the mythology of the franchise. The tone of this aspect is much different in ‘Nil Unlocked’ as it was in ‘Nil.’ I am curious to see where this all goes; it will either be a great reveal, or could crash and burn…. That’s what my thinking is at this point in time about this series. Great concept, but not enough introduced at the beginning to really hook a reader. Compared to series like ‘Maze Runner,’ ‘The book of Ivy,’ ‘Monument 14,’ and ‘Not a Drop to Drink,’ where the landscape and circumstances may change from book to book, but the core drive and motivation of the characters don’t in relation to the mythology/politics/climate of the story. It’s a little touchy-feely stuff, but it’s just the impression I get – though a small one impacting the novel overall.

Where Charley was more an everyday girl and needed to rely on her island mates to survive – though her analytical skills about the nature of the island proved her a savant, Skye has been a trained survivalist. Trained specifically for Nil. Which made ‘Nil Unlocked’ feel more of a trope than its predecessor.

The chapters are short and alternate between Skye and Rives. We also get heavy amounts of excerpts of Skye’s Uncles journal – all to unravel the mysteries of Nil and ultimately leading the pair to a plan that could turn the existence of Nil on its head. It is definitely a high-stakes read that kept me glued to the page. Really, great pacing and intrigue from start to finish.

I want to reserve whether I’ll recommend this until after I read ‘Nil on Fire.’ Matson has a great writing style which is more suited to the YA demographic, and I love the themes she introduces in the material.

Overall feeling: Dancing while on fire.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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