Cargo (The Reservation Trilogy, #1) – By Jen Castleberry

9781942111061 Rating:

Buy link: Cargo (The Reservation Trilogy Book 1)

*Note: I received an e-copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

Synopsis (From Goodreads):

The earth has been reduced to a singular continent, governed by extra-terrestrials, collapsed by nuclear weapons residue and wracked with radiation sickness. Only one viable territory remains, and access there is restricted by a mysterious selection process. Everyone hopes to be chosen for transport. Everyone but Cass. 

Seventeen year old Cassidy Hartinger has spent the past eleven years living in a government-maintained bunker. She should be thrilled when a handsome transporter arrives to take her to the Reservation. So why does she feel like he’s dragging her, kicking and screaming, straight into the anti-paradise?

Faced with gun-wielding survivalists and elemental catastrophes, will Cass make it more than two steps out of the bunker? Will her journey to peace and safety in the Reservation turn out to be the most perilous thing she’s encountered so far?

Fast-paced action and a tumultuous teenage romance will keep readers begging for more installments of The Reservation Trilogy!

My Review

I was curious to see how a post-apocalyptic dystopian trilogy would work as novellas. Is it enough to establish the characters and also describe the “world” in the story? Well, first let me talk about the world building. There are references to E.Ts and hybrid beings but we never really meet or read anything that is not “human”. It is more on the lines of a war-torn city courtesy periodic bombing and air-raids. So you have damaged buildings and roads, the commoners pretty much left abandoned and forced to take handouts from the church and the “Reservation”, which is the only prosperous place left. Cassidy was whisked away from her parents and sent to live in a bunker under a church with other children and teenagers. There are no crazy mutated monsters in this book. Everything is as “real” as you would expect in any current city razed down because of war. For a change, you have a teen protagonist who is thrilled to get away from her family (bickering parents, no opportunity to make friends, house arrest et al) and put into a bunker full of kids in her age group. So for the next ten years, she makes two best friends – Nars and Adrienne – a family of her choosing. She longs to be back with them, she thinks about them in practically every other page. So, I felt it was a bit overdone, but maybe, somewhere it was necessary too. To drive home the point. Since this is a short book, it is harder to spend much time on “showing” rather than just “telling”. So we are told a lot about her missing Adrienne and Nars. She is so used to sharing a bunk bed with Adrienne that the hardest adjustment she has to make is the idea of sleeping alone. She misses her terribly and I liked how that was described. I mean, it is kind of rare nowadays to see “physical affection” described between friends without sexual connotations.

Since I am now quite familiar with some of the popular tropes used in dystopian fiction, I did get a feeling of been-there-done-that with some of the character dynamics and plot points. Teen female protagonist forced to leave the familiarity of her home? Check. Friendzoning your male bestie who has a crush on you? Check. Creepy and elite officials you want to punch but cannot. Check. Crushing on the guy who is irritatingly secretive about everything? Check. I quite liked Nathan though. There was something sensible and mature about the way he handled Cassidy. I usually warm up and sympathize with the “friend-crush” (Nars) in books because they are always ditched by the girl who ends up with the better looking and the originally intended “hero” of the book. But surprisingly, though I liked Nars, I didn’t care much about his feelings towards Cassidy. Maybe it is because when he had to make a crucial decision, his self-preservation kicked in, and not “selfless love”.

I finished the book with a feeling that there were more unanswered questions than answers which will be addressed in the future books. But I would have loved it if there was more of a window to get a glimpse of it in the first book itself. I feel like it would have given the proceedings more verve, especially during their journey through the desert. I thought this was one of those books which seems a bit generic as a standalone but will feel more rounded in context of a completed series. So, if you are looking to start a new dystopian trilogy with a short, brisk first instalment, this does make for a nice, quick read.

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