Book Review – ‘Nil on Fire’ (#3 Nil) by Lynne Matson

An all-stakes battle with teens pitted against a sentient island in a pocket universe.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 416

Despite Rives and Skye’s attempt to destroy Nil, the island remains. And back in this world, Nil won’t let Skye go. Haunted by a darkness she can’t ignore, Skye wrestles with Nil nightmares that worsen by the day and threaten to tear her apart. As Skye fights to keep her mind intact, she realizes that to finally break free of Nil, she must end Nil’s vicious cycle once and for all—and she can’t do it alone.

Who are Nil’s new arrivals? Who will return to the island? And who will survive in the end? In this final installment of the Nil series, the stakes have never been higher.

Losing isn’t an option, but winning will cost Skye everything.

I have so many feelings about this fantastic concept – sentient portals abducting teens and depositing them in an alternate pocket universe to survive Island-style, and try and find a way home again before their time runs out.

I appreciated the narrative around colonisation and erasure of aboriginal culture underlying ‘Nil on Fire,’ but I still don’t think it was handled as delicately as it could have been, but the representation and exploration of the Polynesian culture was a big plus for me. So too was the diversity – many cultures and languages represented in the characters, yet still no getting a chance to lead the narrative.

Unfortunately there were drawbacks in this concluding novel of the Nil trilogy. This felt long, facts kept getting repeated and I did not like the direction the last instalment in this series took us. I struggled a bit with the narrative, losing interest many times, the characters started to feel more two-dimensional despite the hell they were being put through. The deaths were shrugged off a little at the end. It was just disappointing for me.

There are multiple perspectives in ‘Nil on Fire’ we follow Skye, Rives, and a schizophrenic omnipresence of Nil (the island) and the story picks up pretty much right after the events ending in the second book in the series ‘Nil Unlocked.’ I did like how we got all the characters from the first two novels in this final book of the trilogy, facing off against the island itself, and the mythology behind its creation. This concluding novel does offer explanation and wrap up the series well, but it was the mythology that did not sit well with me. It was a little too fantastical. Nil is a great series and the premise had me hooked… I would have loved this to stick to a more science fiction route than it had – given the alien consciousness presence and the alternate pocket universe. The precedence had been set. Otherwise maybe the series should have taken the more mystical route and leave the mythology grounded in the Polynesian culture. The philosophy of the Nil series felt like a jumbled mish-mash of both elements and lacked conviction.

As we are dealing with established characters, who have already run the gauntlet, there is limited space for them to develop further. In that sense we get the main cast helping secondary characters grow from their own experience. I guess that is another factor that separated from the narrative. I kept getting bored with too much detail, repetition, and short chapters jumping from perspective to perspective. The narrative didn’t sit long enough with a character for me to really get sucked into the Nil universe, or form strong emotional connections with the cast. ‘Nil on Fire’ is banking on the reader already having forged those bonds in the first two novels to carry you through this finale.

Lynne Matson has a great writing style for setting the scene and world building, I loved her descriptions of the island and its mysterious sway on the teens. She is also great at character development from the previous novels. I’d like to read something from her told in first person with no switches in perspective and see how that affects my reading experience.

So this was a mixed bag of feelings for me. I loved getting to meet all the characters again, and have the mystery solved… I just didn’t like the direction it took.

Overall feeling: *nose-dive*

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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.

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.

Book Review – ‘Nil’ (#1 Nil) by Lynne Matson

Bought this book for the island survival aspect, stayed for the action and mystery.

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days–to escape, or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s lying naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

I went into this without knowing much about the Nil universe other than it was a survival adventure for a group of teens on a tropical island. I certainly did not expect the sci-fi twist, which I found delightful and set up an interesting premise. This book felt like a mash-up of ‘The Maze Runner’ and ‘Beauty Queens.’

I got a little worried with the dual perspectives, it is usually a note that gives a lot of repetition in the narrative, but ‘Nil’ managed to dodge this pitfall expertly.

There was a little bit of a slow start. The world building took a little bit of time to erect with such a large cast of characters, and the rules of the island inhabitants… and the island itself. It is well worth persevering. I’ve read slower, I think because we learn about the world through ‘show’ more than ‘tell’ it slowed the pace a little. But it’s the kind of writing that I prefer. ‘Nil’ definitely captured my imagination.

Protagonist Charley, an athletic, 6-foot, awkward teenage girl awakening naked on a strange island was a great premise. She really works at finding herself, and her place on the island. I loved how her unique perspective of the island, and its reason for being, adds something new to the story. I love how the attributes she found embarrassing about herself were the things that gave her advantages in this hostile environment.

The constant ticking clock for all the characters added an urgency that really upped the pacing and kept me engaged right to the last page.

Thad, the love interest, was all things hunky hero that you’d expect. The leader, the rescuer. Though he didn’t embody that stereotype completely. He gets to live outside those initial impressions, and lets Charley deconstruct a few of these aspects on her own terms and grow as a person. It was great to read about his doubt and insecurities.

The romance between these two felt a bit insta-lovey. I would have liked have read more of a build and a rocky start. So it did feel a bit cheesy and tropey in that respect.

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Contra to that, ‘Nil’ is brutal. Matson is not afraid to pile up the body count – and any character is fair game. I really did not know who was going to make it through to the end. This air of uncertainty, of living in the now, adds some great tension and had me hooked.

Nil’ reads more like a romance with a survival setting. Upon finishing, while satisfied with the resolution of major plot points, the mystery of the island remains unsolved. And I am keen to read on in this trilogy to discover what Nil is all about. Though it looks like the sequel ‘Nil Unlocked’ is dealing with different protagonists.

There was a contrived element that urked me. Like some big Game Master was pulling the strings. Whether this was intentional, and the role of the island itself, or the author setting up the storyline, it’s something that resonated with me in a slightly negative way.

I think if there was a touch more explanation about the island, a little less romance, less of the trope, this would have been a 5 star read. It is still a bonza read. I loved the adventure and the mystery of the island, the challenges to survival, and how visceral the challenges were. Definitely up there with my recommended books. Can’t wait to work out the mystery of Nil in the remainder of the trilogy.

Overall feeling: Not too shabby

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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.