16 August 2016

Review #507: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

----Yann Martel

Alexandra Oliva, an American author, pens her debut science-fiction dystopian book, The Last One that unfolds the story of a woman taking part in a deadly real-life survival game where twelve contestants without any prior knowledge needs to survive through a dense, dark forest filled with deathly challenges, but little did they knew or the woman knew that this game show is going to get very real, so real that apocalypse can even happen.


Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it human-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.

A reality survival game TV show, with a prize money of worth $1 million, where twelve contestants need to fight it out with either the challenges sprung up like mushrooms here and there by the producers of the show (think The Hunger Games) on their way or with the fellow contestants. The contestants are sent into the woods without any basic training or idea about what to expect or what kind of dangers they are going to face, and soon they start facing some pretty hardcore challenges, among the contestants, Zoo, as coined and labeled by the game producers and so the rest of the contestants by some label name instead of the actual names, is the one who leads the show, but eventually she faces some scary challenges like real-life corpses and devastation, but little did she or the rest of the contestants had any idea that whatever they are facing is not a challenge any more, in fact it is real and the world has ended with no one to rescue them from the devastation. What happens next is for you to find out?

Another dystopian novel that reflects the post apocalyptic world and projects the end in a rather dramatic yet believable way. This make-believe world and the logic surrounding it is quite strikingly comprehended by the author into her story line, thereby helping her readers to connect with such a devastating world. The author's imagination may not be that unique but her creativity and the extent of it is certainly quite extraordinary. The book's cover image is not that alluring like its story line, overall, this is a feel good kind of book that will not let down the readers in any possible way.

The author's writing style is really strong, although it lacked emphatically, hence this is where the readers will find it difficult to anchor with the story's emotions. The pacing of the book is really fast as this breezy read can be enjoyed into just one sitting, and not to mention the gripping and scary action scenes will grip and chill the readers to their very core. The shifting narrative alternates between the past and the present, where the past, the time right before the game show, reads like some kind of movie script and the present, where the author gives her readers a peek into the mind of her protagonist.

The characters from the book are no doubt well developed, and the author's usage of not using a real name to her characters but to use a label name, like "Asian Chick", "Banker", etc. is remarkable, but then again, that stops the readers to connect or understand those characters. The main character, Zoo, a married woman, is realistically portrayed with her flaws, impulsive attitude, caring demeanor and brave outlook, but then again, she too lacked depth that stops the readers from connecting or rooting for her till the very end.

In a nutshell, the story is highly absorbing and bone-chillingly intriguing with a tense atmosphere, although somewhere the story lacked its own charm.

Verdict: A captivating read!

Courtesy: Thanks to the author's publishers for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.

Author Info:
Alexandra Oliva — Ali, for short — grew up in a tiny town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Her last name is pronounced "all of a," like the first three words of the phrase “all of a sudden.”
Photo: Lynn Paul
Photo: Lynn Paul
In 2001, Ali left the Adirondacks for Yale University where she made some of the best friends of her life, failed to learn Russian, and wrote a very long essay about Robin Hood, which earned her a B.A. in History.
After Yale, Ali moved to Ireland to write, travel, and wait tables.  When her work permit ran out, she briefly returned to her hometown before moving on to New York City.
In New York, Ali waited more tables, worked as a private tutor, met her husband online, learned to rock climb, and received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The New School. She also volunteered The Prospect Park Zoo, where she particularly enjoyed narrating the Friday morning sea lion feedings to visitors and getting to hold bearded dragons.
During this time,  Ali also wrote two novels that she now refers to as her “practice novels,” though she didn’t know that's what they were at the time. While gathering rejection letters for the second of these, she had the idea for The Last One and immediately knew it was her next project.
To pull off this novel, Ali knew she needed to get her hands dirty. Soon she was using “writing research” as the impetus to sign up for an experience she would have been too scared to undertake otherwise: a fourteen-day field course with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (B.O.S.S.) — which is known for providing some of the most authentic and challenging wilderness survival and primitive living experiences in the world.
Ali and her husband flew to Utah for the course, where they hiked out into the desert with expert guidance and minimal supplies. In the field, she pushed herself walking water source to water source without food for three days, learned how to start a fire using a bow drill, and glimpsed an elusive mountain lion minutes before being left to camp entirely on her own for two days. It was a difficult and amazing experience, and one that was extraordinarily helpful to writing The Last One.
In 2014, Ali and her husband moved to the Pacific Northwest and got a puppy. That puppy is now a dog and pretty much rules their lives.
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