Nil Review

Title: Nil
Author: Lynne Matson
Publish Date: March 4th 2014 by Henry Holt

On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days–to escape, or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s lying naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.

“How do you escape from an island that doesn’t exist?”

Since I live on an island, I always gravitate towards stories about islands – especially ones that are supernatural or have a sci-fi setting. I was never a huge fan of the show, Survivor, but I remember plenty of episodes and how weird it was to see people surviving outside of their comfort zones.

I wasn’t expecting what Nil brought to the table, and I’m glad I was finally able to finish it. I started it a few months ago when it released, and there was the moment of love at first sight, and I got annoyed and put it down. But it was in the back of my mind, nagging at me. I wanted to know why they were on this island, what they had to do to get off of it, and if they would ever make it off. That curiosity was what drew me back to it. While I feel that there was enough material to make it a stand-alone novel, I kind of wanted more – but I know that it wouldn’t have worked well as a trilogy.

Our main characters, Charley and Thad, tell the story in alternating chapters starting with Charley before she lands on Nil and throughout their time together on the island. One of the things I liked about the alternating chapters was that each chapter almost always ended with a small cliffhanger, so you had to wait to find out what happened until the chapter after next. Usually that bothers me, but it was written well enough where Thad and Charley’s overlapping perspectives weren’t repetitive. I found their meeting to be kind of annoying, with the sort of ‘love at first sight’ on Charley’s end, and the ‘I need to protect her’ on Thad’s end. But it actually progressed slowly enough to prove its credibility as their relationship progressed.

The island of Nil was what I found most fascinating – and the main and minor characters all had distinctive qualities that didn’t leave you wondering why they were even in the story – they each felt fleshed out and real. It didn’t seem unrealistic that a group of teenagers could survive as they had – even though they were given a time limit. Basically, you ended up on Nil by random – a shimmering “gate” took you and dumped you on the island. There are also outbound gates, which were what you had to run and catch to make it off of Nil. The teenagers figured out that you had 365 days to catch a gate back or you didn’t make it off the island – you died. This aspect of the story made timing and lasting relationships a damning thing. Time was a major theme in the story, whether it was Charley worrying about getting home and thinking about how long she had to burn off on the island until it was “her turn” to catch a gate, or with Thad and his days coming to an end even faster once he realized he didn’t want to leave Charley, even if it meant being on Nil forever. When some of the minor characters didn’t make it, I was bummed out. Matson wasn’t afraid to kill off characters, but most of them felt justified in that they died for someone else or they were really just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another aspect or theme about the story was ‘the personal journey’ and self-preservation. Thad had a lot of moments where he seemed to be losing it, having been on the island almost a whole year with nothing to look forward to but his “gate”. He often spoke to Nil in his thoughts, who he deemed the queen of the island and how she was playing games with all of them. Charley introduced a more positive presence with Thad where she tried to help him see that everyone was on Nil for a reason, that they had a purpose. Being inside your head for a while without having outside perspective is one of those issues everyone deals with – especially as a teenager. I liked hearing all the different characters perspectives on the reason for Nil and their purpose. Not all of the teens on the island spoke fluent English, so it was interesting to see how they interacted through their “jobs” where they were contributing to keeping the Nil City working for themselves and for the future inhabitants of Nil. I feel like if it were to happen, anyone would realize how important it was to work as a team to achieve the same goals – and by working together and helping each other – they were able to succeed, mostly. It would almost be worth it for Matson to write a companion novel about the inhabitants left on the island – and if they were able to unravel more about the mystery of Nil. There was a lot of speculation and theories going around with the characters, and it almost makes me want to whine because I want to know the reason – but it’s an open ended question. Why were they sent to Nil and why did some make it back and others not? It’s an opened question to the reader – and while I like when my mind drifts and I find myself thinking about the story and all the what ifs, it still bugs the heck out of me!

I would suggest this novel to anyone interested in sci-fi/supernatural stories, anyone who likes Survivor-esque shows/movies/books, and anyone who likes when minor characters aren’t just in the background.

My Over All Rating: 

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