I was in the mood for something with a bit more “flair” and ended up grabbing Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. If I can give Dekker credit for anything, it’s that he never seems to think “inside the box”… while I may fault him sometimes for execution, he has no lack of raw originality. Forbidden, the first in a three book arc, is set in a dystopian future and blends futuristic advancements (e.g. DNA manipulation) with a way of life that in many aspects parallels the far past. (Sword fights! Horseback riding! Underground prisons that are basically dungeons!)
The world of Forbidden is a gloomy one—after a cataclysmic world war, scientists create and unleash a virus capable of altering the genetic codes responsible for all higher human emotions. All human emotions, that is, except fear and its derivatives. With a new world order in place, humanity is at peace for hundreds of years—essentially because everyone on earth is only a few steps removed from being a robot. Devoid of hate and love, people appear to be motivated only by reason and a desire to alleviate their anxieties.
That latter, sadly, struck an all-too-familiar chord with me… how many people do I know that are motivated by fear? How many spend most of their time distracting themselves from the uncomfortable realities of life– like death, pain, and the always unknowable future?
Fortunately for the fictional characters in Dekker and Lee’s work, a vial of blood capable of restoring the full spectrum of feelings to those who drink it (side note: yuck) falls into the hands of the story’s protagonist, Rom Sebastian. Suddenly Rom –and a few friends who also take the restorative blood–are the only people on earth who are truly alive. On the run from the establishment, the group must search for a boy prophesied to be the key to restoring the rest of humanity. Unfortunately for them, someone else has found—and taken—a partial cure. Though whether it can truly be called a cure is questionable, since it only restores the darkest side of the human heart…
I really like the premise of this book, and it grabbed me quickly with plenty of action. I think it had a huge amount of potential, but I’m ultimately going to give it a tentative 3/5 stars, and by tentative I mean that it barely squeaked past the two star threshold. What fell short? In my mind there are two glaring issues.
First off, Forbidden was violent. The antagonist, Saric, is literally incapable of any noble emotions resembling humility, kindness, or affection to temper his villainous passions–so I can understand why Dekker and Lee painted him in such a one-dimensional, sadistic light. Among his offenses (although some are just alluded to) are murder, mad-scientist torture…and a disturbing attraction to his own half-sister despite having what appears to be a hoard of concubines. Saric aside, there was darkness elsewhere in the story I felt was unnecessary…a scene near the end involving a dead body and an internal organ stands out in my mind. I would never recommend this book to a young person. I felt as if Dekker (and Lee) enjoyed focusing in on the disturbing nature of things more than is required of the story.
Second, nothing in the book is very well fleshed out. The characters, for example, are mostly flat; the plot is simplistic. To be fair, the premise of the story makes character building difficult—after all, how to you create connection for your readers with a character that has had essentially no emotions for his entire life? Backstory becomes a challenge, as their lives are nothing but a list of facts that held no deeper meaning for them, at least until recently. After the characters are brought “to life”, many still lack depth or behave inconsistently—although it’s a wonder they can function at all given that processing so many new emotions at once must be akin to being blind and then suddenly given sight.
So what saved the book for me? Why did I let it inch up to a 3/5 stars? Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that this book is the first in a trilogy. Despite all the problems I’ve mentioned (and some that I didn’t) I still walked away really wanting to know what happens in the next book, which to me is a sign of some level of decent writing. The closing reveal had all the dystopian-drama-cliffhanger goodness I was hoping for, and I can’t stop thinking about directions the plot could go. Some of the issues I had seemed less rankling as I considered that this first volume may have been, ultimately, setting the stage for the full-fledged drama of Mortal (the sequel title). How many middling TV pilots have led to an excellent series?
“Love covers a multitude of sins” and in this case, well… so does a good sequel.
Speaking of sequels, I still haven’t read book two of Dekker’s Circle series… which would you rather see me read next? Should I continue with this or head back to his more definitive work? Let me know with a comment, and thanks for checking in on the blog!