Published: January 2013 by Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback, 281 pages
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy
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Three levels. Two loves. One choice.
'I pause to look around the hive - all the podlike chambers are lit up as the drones shoot up on memories ... I've wanted to get out of here before, but now the tight quarters start to choke me. There has to be more to death than this.'
Felicia Ward is dead. Trapped in a stark white afterlife limbo, she spends endless days replaying memories, of her family, friends, boyfriend ... and of the guy who broke her heart. The guy who has just broken into Level 2 to find her.
Felicia learns that a rebellion is brewing, and it seems she is the key. Suspended between heaven and earth, she must make a choice. Between two worlds, two lives and two loves.
This is one of the most interesting premises I have ever encountered in fiction, and I was immediately drawn to the book when I heard about it. An afterlife of limbo, where memories are a currency and everyone blisses on recollections of their lives? How awesome, right?
Level 2 is told from the point of view of Felicia Ward, who died the day before her eighteenth birthday and has spent what seems like decades in the place between Earth and Heaven. She is content to relive the greatest moments of her life through the machines available to her, and this forms a creative device through which we find out about her life – her demanding parents, her needy best friend, her mysterious ex-boyfriend and her gorgeous and charming boyfriend. But her afterlife is thrown into turmoil when her ex-boyfriend, Julian, rescues her and shows her the dystopian nightmare Level 2 has become.
The angels in this story aren’t very nice at all – hell-bent (ha!) on controlling the poor human souls who make it to Level 2 for their own ambitions. I think this twist on the traditional law is really awesome! I also liked the slow unfolding of Level 2 to the reader’s eyes: we get to explore the space alongside Felicia and feel her wonder, awe, and fright at it all.
However, I didn’t like Felicia very much at all. In the beginning there was just nothing to really make me feel for her because she was genuinely happy where she was, and then afterwards when she was told about the rebellion and the real purpose of Level 2, she was too busy being a brat to be helpful to anyone. In the face of all the souls who were essentially being tortured, Felicia is only interested in herself, how people treat her and talk to her, the quest to find her boyfriend Neil, wanting to rescue her friends, and so on. Even when she’s called out on it, she doesn’t really take the criticism seriously. I similarly found Neil really bland because he was just ‘good little preacher’s boy’ through and through, and it was a little disappointing to be honest. But maybe there will be more revealed about him in the sequel.
In contrast, I really liked Julian. I mean, I hated him for the most part because of how he treated both Felicia and her best friend, but over time I began to realise there is more to him then that. It doesn’t excuse what he did, but in a book filled with cardboard cut-outs, he made an impression.
I enjoyed the execution and premise of Level 2, and commend Appelhans on her awesome world-building. It’s wonderful to see such a skilful début. However I was disappointed in the cast and feel they could all have been fleshed out more and the story could have been more entertaining if I had been able to connect with them more. However, this unique and refreshing YA novel will be enjoyed by those who are looking for a completely original book that puts a great spin on age-old archetypes.