I'm giving this a solid 3.75 stars. I feel as if I have a love/hate relationship with this story. Not surprising, when you read all the reviews. People generally are on the "I love it!" side or the "This was a total waste of my time" side.
On the positive side, the story was pretty good. Some true lovers of the genre were disappointed that everything wasn't explained. For example, the war wasn't explained. Was it a civil war? Were our borders breached? I'm not sure it mattered in the long run. There was a war, it was terrible (as are all wars), it's over now, and the FBR is in control as we start the story. The Articles, as well as martial law, were made clear.
The pacing was good. There was a lot of action and suspense. It was predictable if you read this sort of thing all the time; there were no real surprises. There were some really creepy scenes, which added to the appeal of the book. It was nothing if not entertaining. This speaks to the writing, which was good. It wasn't overly flowery or poetic, which would have been inappropriate for this sort of plot. There was really nothing profound, either. And I didn't find it witty or funny or smart. These are things which would have made it better, but the book was still good without them. I think it just reflects that this author is young in her writing.
I had some serious problems with the characters. First off - great name, Ember Miller. Love that name! And for someone with such a great name, you'd think she'd have a functioning brain cell! There were so many times I found myself yelling at her idiocy that I almost gave up. It was hard to like a main character who wasn't just badass stubborn, but just flat stupid. She did impulsive things, didn't really learn anything from her mistakes, and most of all, didn't change until the very end. She never apologized for her behavior, blaming Chase for everything. And the thing that bugged me the most was the way she held this idealistic expectation of the world even when time after time it proved to be a bad place. I wanted to smack her and yell "Duh! What did you THINK was going to happen?" What may have been planned as naivete came across as willful, spiteful, childish behavior. She was anything but sympathetic.
I did like Chase. He was as likable as Ember was irritating. His PTSD was believable. He was honest. The only fault I think he had was his dogged determination to "just keep her safe." I think one of my favorite parts of the book was when they have the conversation on the road after getting away from the crazy lady in the trailer. He finally tells Ember that she's an idiot. Emotionally, Chase did all the work. It might have been ok if she had at least appreciated it.
The angst and tension between the characters really got on my nerves. Just when I thought they'd finally be honest and get somewhere in terms of trusting each other, they would retreat or make asses of themselves. And here's the thing: I had to keep reminding myself that these two were 17 and 19 years old. Ember's maturity level should have risen far before it did based on her circumstances. If she was supposed to have street smarts from growing up poor and avoiding the soldiers, then she should have had more common sense than to think she could trust people.
In the end, Ember did redeem herself, so I suppose that also redeemed the story for me. It's ok to dislike a character in a story as long as the story is still good. I don't think Simmons wrote a bad story, or wrote a good story badly. She just wrote a really irritating character with no common sense. For me to have gotten as mad at her as I did tells me that Simmons did a good job. If I hadn't cared about Ember, then it would have been a badly written book.
Jenny Ikeda does a great job with the narration. And all things considered, it's a good read. I'm looking forward to the sequel, since Ember has (hopefully) finally gotten a clue. It's about time.