The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen

I am a fan of Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, beginning with The False Prince, and I read her historical fiction book set in East Berlin, A Night Divided, and enjoyed it too. But The Scourge just didn’t connect with me. I felt the prose and dialog were poorly written, and the plot was contrived and didn’t make sense a lot of the time.

Ani Mills is one of the River People who live up-country in a primitive and poverty-stricken culture, and she and her fellow “grubs” don’t have much to do with the townsfolk who they call “pinchworms”. Maybe that minimal contact is the reason that the Scourge, a deadly infectious disease that is rampant in the pinchworms, hasn’t yet infected the River People. When Ani is arrested and taken to the lowlands town to be tested for The Scourge, she knows it must be a mistake. But Ani’s River People are powerless in the governmental system of this world, and Ani may be infected after all. Anyway, she has little or no choice about what will happen to her, but she continues to fight against her fate and her oppressive society and government.

I liked the premise of this book, but it just didn’t go smoothly. I don’t mean that things needed to go well for the protagonist, Ani, or for her friends. Her situation goes from bad to worse, but that’s the way you make a story: take your main character and get her into trouble and then see what happens. However, with Ani, her lows are unbelievably low, and her hairbreadth-escapes are unbelievably fortuitous. The penal colony or quarantine island Ani is sent to is very poorly run, with prisoners running around all over the island with no supervision, yet it’s supposed to be inescapable and quite authoritarian.

Younger readers who want a “Hunger Games” experience, very political, in their reading might like this one and might be willing to overlook the far-fetched solutions and rescues, but I was not.

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