Review: YEAR ONE (Chronicles of the One #1), by Nora Roberts

Some time ago, a friend told me about the In Death series written by Nora Roberts under the pseudonym of J.D. Robb, and I decided to give it a try, but unfortunately the story did not work for me: I found that the author favored some telling over showing and often indulged in sudden changes of p.o.v., a technique I don’t exactly approve of.  Nothing wrong with either practice, granted, but to me they spoil the enjoyment of a story, so that I moved on – that is, until I saw this book mentioned on a fellow blogger’s post.

Post-apocalyptic scenarios always fascinated me, so I found the premise for Year One quite irresistible, enough to silence any residual misgivings coming from my previous experience.  Once again, though, I must give in to the realization that Ms. Roberts’ writing is not my cup of tea…

As I said the premise is intriguing and the novel starts with great momentum: what looks like a strain of avian flu sweeps like wildfire across the world, with a staggering mortality rate. The descriptions of the rapid spread of infection, aided by the worldwide transport network, reminded me of the initial scenes of the ’70s BBC classic Survivors, in my opinion one of the staples of the post-apocalyptic genre, and the ensuing, inevitable collapse of infrastructures all over the world is painted in dramatic flashes that focus on the main characters’ lives and the way they deal with the end of the world.

At some point, however, Ms. Roberts decided to introduce a magical element, something that literally came out of the blue with little or no explanation other than it was a by-product of the pandemic: people start to exhibit peculiar abilities – like lighting fires or flying – and those few who already possessed some, discover that these abilities are enhanced and growing every day.  It was somehow jarring, I’ll admit it, because in my opinion this element had little or no place in the description of the end of the world as we know it, but I decided to take it in stride and see how it would develop.   Sadly, it failed to integrate with the rest of the narrative, in my opinion, in great measure because I kept seeing it as a mashup of incompatible themes: as a civilization literally falls, the appearance of ladies riding unicorns or Tinkerbell-like pixies (I kid you not…) takes away the drama from the depicted events and becomes dangerously close to ludicrous, and just as unbelievable as character Lana, who “graduates” from lighting candles with her mind to shifting heavy objects (like a moving bridge) with no explanation whatsoever for this amazing escalation.

This alone should not have been enough to stop me from forging on, particularly because the few ominous mentions of immune people being rounded up and disappearing from the face of the Earth – probably being experimented on in search of a cure – added a new, scary facet to the overall drama, as did the mounting violence that always comes when social infrastructures weaken or cease to exist.  Still, problems kept piling up: for example, in this novel people seem to be divided into two groups, the ‘good guys’, who are unfailingly, immutably good; and the bad ones, who are irredeemably evil.  There is no space for gray areas, for people wavering between the brutal needs for survival and the tenets of humanity, and this robs characters of believability, transforming them into cardboard cutouts instead of the flesh-and-blood people I always want to care for (or even hate, why not?) in a book.

And again, some behavioral choices don’t add up when compared with the seriousness of the situation, so that they strike a jarring note I was unable to ignore. Some examples? Lovers Lana and Max are preparing to leave New York city, before it becomes to late for that, and they gather some necessary items for the road: when going out to procure a couple of backpacks, Max comes back with an appropriate camouflage-colored one for himself, and a pink-hued one for Lana, as a cute gesture – because of course if one wants to avoid calling attention to themselves, pink is the perfect choice, and you need to be cute when the end of the world draws near!  Or take the example of journalist Arlys and her intern Fred (i.e. Miss “Hey, I’m a pixie! Cool!”) who are leaving as well, knowing they might be hunted down for a number of reason I won’t list here: as they grab what supplies they can, Fred adds makeup items to their stores, as if unwilling to face the end of the world without looking at their best. Seriously?

Add to that a few obvious plot devices, or some dialogues that are at times quite cringe-worthy and you have the perfect recipe for a huge disappointment: I had tried very hard not to compare Year One to my favorite novels on this subject, Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, but at some point it was impossible not to, and this novel came up quite short of the mark, so I gave up the struggle at around 50% of the road.


My Rating: 


19 thoughts on “Review: YEAR ONE (Chronicles of the One #1), by Nora Roberts

  1. Oh too bad. I was surprised when this novel came out, because I’ve always thought of Nora Roberts as strictly a romance author. I myself would be laughing at the “grab my make up and pink backpack” scenario! Ha ha I guess she couldn’t leave her romance roots completely behind:-)

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  2. Yikes, this sounds like a hot mess! I’ve never read anything by Nora Roberts and I honestly don’t think she’d be to my tastes, but I do have a lot of respect for her hustle (and all the success she’s had in romance). As someone who’d love a pink backpack and makeup in non-apocalyptic circumstances, even I have to roll my eyes at that scene!

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  3. Lol… a great review, Maddalena. I didn’t have quite the problem with this one that you did – but as I have regularly seen the weird stuff surface as part of the end-of-the-world detritus in post-apocalyptic adventures, I treated it as a sci-fi/fantasy mash-up. But I will agree that Roberts is a Marmite author – you either love her or don’t. Himself (who is quite a hardcore sci fi reader) LOVES her J.D. Robb books AND some of her romance thrillers, whereas while I have picked a couple up and even quite enjoyed them, I don’t feel driven to read a lot more.

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    1. Indeed the marmite comparison is perfect! 😀
      After two failed attempts I guess she is not my cup of tea, which in the case of this book is a pity, since there was a great deal of potential for the story. Probably, if she had not wanted to throw everything in it, including the kitchen sink, it might have worked for me…

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  4. There are so many of those In Death books! I gave a couple of them a try, but like you, I just found them to be poorly written and very “mass produced”, if you know what I mean. Since then I’ve stayed away from all of Nora Roberts’ stuff, no matter what name she writes under. Glad I did not cave to the temptation of trying her fantasy/spec fic!

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    1. The mass production you mention should have been a warning signal, but I ignored it: from my point of view, an author can’t put all that stuff on the market and always assure quality. Well, at least I can write off another name from my long list of authors I want to read… 😀


  5. I have read Nora Roberts before, only once, and I can’t remember the book title – in fact I just went to look it up and by God this writer is prolific – over 200 books in 40(ish) years (wow, is that 5 books a year or is my maths screwed up) – anyway, I gave up trying to find the one I’d read. That being said she’s very popular and well published but because I just always associate her name with romance this one just stayed off my radar.
    It’s a shame it didn’t work out for you. I won’t be adding this one to my list.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Once a romance writer, always a romance writer – some would say 😀
      Not that there is anything wrong with the genre, it’s just that not everyone feels comfortable with it, even when it’s blended with other more appealing genres…
      Well, I had to give it a try! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The Stand remains the gold standard for me, though I think some of its “magical negro” stuff is a bit dated. I don’t know if you’ve read “Station 11” yet–that one is really a joy, to me, and is one of the better written books I’ve read in awhile. My son just finished “Plague Land” and really liked it. I’m going to start it soon.

    As for Nora Roberts, I read some of the In Death series (heck, my “novel” is loosely a result of those books); at least there, her biggest sin was the shifting POV stuff. This one sounds a little silly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It *is* a little silly, to be nice about it, and part of my irritation came from the awareness of a certain friend’s doubts about her own works, while publicly recognized authors seem to able to get away with *anything*. Tsk! 😉
      And I remember your comments about Station Eleven: one of these days I will get there – one of these days…

      Liked by 1 person

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