Review: Partials by Dan Wells

Partials Book Cover
Partials by Dan Wells

Dystopian fiction has been seeing a strong climb up the popularity charts ever since The Hunger Games (books) hit the market. I’ve read several volumes of dystopian fiction in the past few years; some (like Santa Olivia) I loved. Some (like Wither), I found wanting.

Having enjoyed the John Cleaver thriller series by Dan Wells previously, I was looking forward to his latest dip in the pool of dystopian fiction. Would it have the note of quiet psychological horror running through his John Cleaver books? Or would it be all wham-bam action?

Partials takes place in a future world where humanity is almost extinct after being attacked by RM, a weaponized virus developed by Partials – bio-engineered humanoids that turned against their makers.

The small group of survivors immune to the virus have regrouped on Long Island, surviving on the decaying foundations of civilization. They live in old buildings, scavenge for groceries in discarded shops, and have to make ends meet in a world where energy like petrol and electricity is rare and rationed.

Kira, the novel’s protagonist, is a sixteen year old medic working in the maternity department of the East Meadow hospital. A skilled researcher, she witnesses first-hand the crisis of extinction befalling her community, where no human baby can survive the onslaught of the RM virus. In order to combat this situation, a mandatory pregnancy law has been passed, a law with an age limit that is constantly being lowered.

East Meadow is turning into a police state, and it is pushing the already divided community onto the brink of civil war. When Kira finds out that her adopted sister is with child, it spurs her into action to find a cure to save the baby, and to do whatever it takes to get to the cure – even if it means going out of Long Island in search of a Partial – when these dangerous beings have not been seen for the past eleven years.

I found this a pacey read, plot-driven and engagingly so. Kira is a likeable character, she’s intelligent, passionate, and can hold her own in a gunfight. In some cases, I thought she came across as a tad too mature – but in a land where children assume adult responsibilities at a young age and get pregnant at eighteen, her maturity probably makes sense. I liked the use of multi-racial characters in the story, a nice touch, since it takes place in New York which was definitely a melting pot of cultures before the book’s apocalyptic war too place. There were quite a few supporting characters in the book, some a little thinly drawn, but given that the book is only the first out of three, I hope to see more character development in the next two books, especially for the Partial Samm, whom I found much more interesting compared to Marcus, Kira’s main love interest.

Overall, I like the general direction this story is taking, and the revelations, when they come at the end, were satisfying, neatly closing the arc of this first book while positing more questions to be answered in the next two. If you are a fan of Battlestar Galactica or Terminator, you’d probably enjoy Partials. It has plenty of action, but falls a little flat on characters so if you’re looking for nuanced relationship development like in The Hunger Games or Santa Olivia, this book might not deliver that punch-in-the-gut feeling as well as others. Still, it’s a rollicking, accessible tale, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

By the way:
I found this pretty cool book trailer for Partials online, which works really well as both as background and lead-up to events in the book. One of the rare book trailers I’ve seen that I’ve actually felt was justified in being produced.

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