Happy publication day, The Last One! I am so excited about this book! It combines my two loves: reality TV and apocalyptic plagues. Although, as I think about it, I appreciate these things more in the abstract.
The Last One centers on twelve strangers who sign up for a Survivor- like reality show. They all have their reasons for being on the show and for pursing the prizes (one million to the winner). They know the show will have a "twist"- and find out that the only way out is to quit. They are consistently manipulated by the producers in cruel ways, and are given team and solo challenges. During one of the solo challenges, a plague hits. The contestants, who already have trouble discerning what's real and what's manufactured by producers, are stuck navigating this new world while trying to figure out that they're no longer on the show. The story is told with flashbacks to the show and a narrator's fight in the present day. There's also a Reddit-like thread that discusses the show from the perspective of the masses, and we find that this really adds to the story.
Truly, with a premise like that this book could have gone cheesy quickly. I take it as a testament to Oliva's writing style that didn't! There were a couple of things that took me a minute to get used to. First, the book jumps right in and begins with no preamble. Personally, I could have done with more context in the beginning, but once we got in I understood why it started like that. (If it hadn't, we'd be dealing with a 1000+ page novel, like The Stand!) Second, I found it a bit jarring that the book switched from first person to third person. Once I got with it, I thought it was a genius choice. When the contestants on the show talk about one another, it's by their first name. When the story is told via the 3rd person, they contestants are referred to by their nickname, like Zoo, Exorcist, or Air Force. I got used to it quickly and I thought it added to the special quality of the storytelling.
Things got quite dark toward the end (and I loved it). The character on her own keeps questioning whether or not the things she runs into in the post apocalyptic world are part of the game. She's fierce, determined, and dead set on going back "home"- even going so far as to make herself believe that the game will end if she makes it back to her husband. I loved the point of view of the storytelling- it gave the readers insight to the participants' mindsets. There are a lot of current themes in this, including religion in America, effects of social media anonymity, and the creation of narratives.
This book has been compared to Station Eleven and The Passage. I've yet to read The Passage, but I would definitely rank this one higher than Station Eleven. I can't believe this is a debut novel. I would absolutely give this a try, if you at all like thrillers, post- apocalyptic novels, or entertaining stories that center on a unique premise.
Rating- 5 out of 5