Published: 30th April 2013 by HarperTeen
Format: eARC, 480 pages
Goodreads ● The Book Depository ● Booktopia ● Bookworld
Sixteen-year-old Ren is a daredevil mobile racer who will risk everything to survive in the Ward, what remains of a water-logged Manhattan. To save her sister, who is suffering from a deadly illness thought to be caused by years of pollution, Ren accepts a secret mission from the government: to search for a freshwater source in the Ward, with the hope of it leading to a cure.
However, she never expects that her search will lead to dangerous encounters with a passionate young scientist; a web of deceit and lies; and an earth-shattering mystery that’s lurking deep beneath the water’s rippling surface.
The idea behind this book is interesting, and I think I could have enjoyed it a lot more if it didn’t suffer from the weird, stilted romance, and the shaky world building. The Ward is a dystopian novel that takes mixes two staples of mankind’s story-telling – the Great Flood myth, and the search for the Fountain of Youth – and turns them into a teenaged girl’s adventure. But the book, instead of being clever and exciting, is sluggish and meandering, and there are huge holes and inconsistencies in the world building and premise.
A huge flood has caused the Manhattan area to exist mostly under-water, and Ren makes a living racing through the maze in a omni-vehical (it can travel on land, air and water). Meanwhile, she also works for the government, looking for precious fresh water. Plot-hole #1 soon rears it’s ugly head – why can’t the people of the Ward make their own fresh water using crude desalination plants? All they really need to do is evaporate the water. Now you might say, they can’t sanitise the water, and the disease might be in the water! But it’s not clear whether the dilapidating plague that exists in the Ward is water-bourne.
Ren begins as a cool protagonist, she’s smart and brave and independent, and cares deeply for her best-friend-come-sister, who is sick with the plague. She quickly becomes a simpering, quivering mess of a girl when she’s around Derek, the bookie she’s fallen in love with for no clear reason. That Derek seems to have a girlfriend doesn’t deter her, neither do all the secrets he’s obviously keeping from her. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of being expected to believe in a protagonist’s intelligence and years of successful self preservation when they put their trust in the wrong people and act like fools around them.
I was surprised at the twist in the novel when it became clear that Ren was going to have to search for a magical spring that could cure the plague. I thought the book would become more enjoyable because of the Fountain of Youth plot line. Instead, it became quite confusing, with the addition of an illuminati like organisation trying to hide the water source and a (horrifyingly young) doctor with extremely confused motivations.
I don’t know. On one hand, I feel like the premise of The Ward is awesome, and I do want to know more about the world and the plague. On the other hand, I no longer think Ren is a believable character, I’ve had trouble with the world-building and the plot line, and I don’t feel like I’m invested in the story or the fate of the characters and the world. I am disappointed to say this book is another case of a beautiful cover hiding mediocre insides.