Review: Nil by Lynne Matson

Lynne Matson

Henry Holt
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Released March 4, 2014
384 pages
YA / Adventure / SciFI

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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.

If Lost and Survivor had a baby populated with teenagers, Nil would be it. There may not be any polar bears, but there are other strange, wild and dangerous beasties and no one is holding challenges for nice prizes. It’s an adventure story from beginning to end with just enough science fiction to set up the plot. It’s like if the Bermuda Triangle had an island smack dab in the middle of it that nobody could see that sucked teenagers from all around the world to deposit them on its shores. It’s no quite like anything I’ve read before.

Nil starts out in Georgia where Charley is inconveniently sucked up by some shimmery burning portal thing and dropped naked on a beach of lava rocks. That is really going to mess with your day. She’s stuck in survival mode for nearly two weeks before Thad comes across her. As an island expert, having been there for over 200 days, he brings her into his city of teenage refugees and gives her the rundown of the rules: the shimmery gates bring you here, the shimmery gates take you back, and you only have 365 days to find an exit or you die.

One of the more refreshing aspects of Nil is that it didn’t try to explain anything. Matson sets up the rules of her world and that’s all they are – rules that her characters must follow. Though the characters share their own hypotheses about why they’re on the island and how they got there, Matson never tries to explain what Nil is or why it only seems to pull teenagers to its shores. Things are as they are and no convoluted explanation is going to benefit the story, so none is attempted to be given. Nil existed before these kids arrived and it will continue to steal away teenagers in broad daylight after they are gone.

Thad is a snowboarder from Canada is the unofficial leader of a group of castaways that work together to survive and hopefully make it back home. He made for a dependable and smart leader that was both believable and vulnerable at the same time. Charley is a smart character with a new perspective on island life. She chooses to contribute to island life in a way that sets up for a series of exciting and nail-biting sequences.

The story is told from both Charley and Thad’s point of views, so the island is seen through the eyes of a cynical old timer whose days are running out and an impressionable newbie who has no idea what’s going on. That gave a larger dimension to this story that is otherwise about survival.

The ending was surprising, but satisfying in its unexpectedness. As the book wrapped up, I had a hard time putting it down because I honestly wasn’t sure if Matson was going to pull the metaphorical rug out beneath her characters (and me). This standalone is a great change of pace and would appeal to those who love action adventure stories even if they aren’t so keen on science fiction.