Review: Partials by Dan Wells

Dan Wells

Balzer + Bray (2012)
472 pages
YA / Dystopian / Sci-Fi

Purchase it here from Amazon

The shortest way for me to review this book is: I read this 472 page book in 36 hours, staying up until 4:30am to finish it. While it’s not a perfect book, Dan Wells pulls together ideas into a dystopian world that made even the routine salvage runs not seem like something I’ve read a million times over.

Partials is yet another post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy, but in this case, it takes place in 2076 Long Island, where the remaining survivors of the human race are trying to survive a virus that kills their children within three days of birth. It’s the lingering reminder of the virus that decimated the population after the bio-engineered super soldiers referred to as “Partials” turned on their creators. Kira, an incredibly ambitious 16-year-old, is interning at the maternity ward of the hospital, hoping to assist in finding a cure to the virus that will otherwise inevitably extinguish the human race. The government instituted a law requiring every females 18 and older to become pregnant as often as possible though the babies always day, and they have begun contemplating lowering the age to 16. Meanwhile a social uprising is causing chaos and destruction of property in an attempt to derail the Senate and return basis human freedoms to the remaining population.

Mild spoiler relating to a character that you’d probably expect to show up eventually in this book, considering the subject matter

I had a hard time believing these kids were all in the 16- to 18-year-old age range. Kira’s boyfriend Marcus is a surgeon and apparently Kira is the best and most intuitive medical researcher, discovering conclusions that trained scientists haven’t been able to pull together in over a decade. While I know that, once the population of North America is below the 100,000 line, kids will inevitably grow up earlier, it still was a bit hard to swallow her genius as a geneticist. I had an easier time imagining Jayden being an effective and respected military officer while still being a teenager. War and combat just strike me as being more ingrained into our natural abilities than scientific research, I guess.

There’s a long middle part that all but stops where readers might get incredibly bored if they’re not interested in genetic manipulation, biology and political machinations. A good quarter of the book takes place in a medical lab where Kira uses the advanced technology to attempt reverse engineering a cure to the virus, and there’s not a lot going on besides her staring at computers, tracking molecules and contemplating scientific methods. It was slow and heavy, and yet I couldn’t put the damn thing down.

Kira really benefitted from the story being told in the third person. Without directly hearing her thoughts, she is just a normal teenage girl with more ambition and daring than most. She has a bad habit of flying off the handle and raging at anyone within arms distance, which got a bit tiresome after a while, but I enjoyed reading about a strong female character with obvious goals and an analytical mind to help her achieve them. Marcus, with his constant jokes and off-hand remarks, was a nice counter balance to Kira’s seriousness despite him being my least favorite of the three main boys.

Then there’s Samm. Oh, Samm… Most of the time he’s strapped to a piece of furniture and glaring at everyone, and yet I instantly fell in love with him. Even though he’s a super soldier – strong, fast and deadly – I couldn’t help but think of him as a woobie and want to bake him cookies. I don’t think that’s what the author was going for, and yet I just wanted someone to give Samm a hug. I don’t even know why. Perhaps I have a latent soft spot for super soldiers tied up to things…

I also love that, despite having a fairly large cast of characters, none of the supporting characters were interchangeable and they all had their individual goals. Even ones like Xochi, who seemed a bit like a caricature, fit nicely within the constructs of the story. Everyone had clear motivations and distinct personalities. Haru’s change from being solidly with Kira on finding a Partial to use in getting a cure to being against her felt like the rational reaction of a new father facing the death of his child while feeling betrayed by his friends. Even the various senators were easily identifiable despite having limited screen time.

Partials had the potential for a love square to occur and I kept waiting for something to happen with one of the other two boys, but thankfully Wells never goes there. Even after a huge fight between Kira and Marcus, where she leaves on a death-wish mission, she doesn’t fall into the arms of another guy. Jayden stays the elder brother attempting to protect everyone. Samm remains delightfully aloof and odd. I think this alone increased my enjoyment of the book. It was the most obvious thing to do to create drama and, though there are moments of unwarranted jealousy from the boyfriend, Kira doesn’t contemplate being with one of the other guys.

Nearly a quarter from the end of the book, a twist is thrown in that might surprise some readers, but – and perhaps this is from me reading too many genre books to begin with – a passing reference early on in the book had already left me assuming the twist would happen eventually. It also made some of Kira’s choices in scientific discovery seem like convenient ways for the twist to not come up sooner rather than rational decisions.

While I’m not in desperate need of Fragments, the next in the series, I am eager to see how the society changes and how Kira deals with all the secrets she’s now left keeping. Partials is a hefty book, but it’s compelling and feels new even after having read so many dystopian books lately. It reads quickly even when the plot slows to a crawl and it’s a smart story, not talking down to the readers despite the sometimes very scientific nature of the story telling.

Also, watch this book trailer. I didn't see it until after I read the book, but it's awesome and creepy all at the same time (though the creepy factor might rise after reading Partials).

Thanks so much to Balzar + Bray for sending me an Advance Readers Copy in return for an honest review.