Genre: Science fiction
Rating: 4 pints of blood
The art on this cover is atrocious. In fact, when I picked it up, my husband took one look and said "wow, are you ever going to have fun mocking that one." To be perfectly honest, though, I'm not sure it needs me to mock it. This cover is almost self-mocking.
To begin with, I always wonder upon seeing the 3D character art why the marketing people thought to go in that direction. I mean, if you took photos of actual people and then used photoshop to make them look a little more like the characters, at least they're somewhat in proportion. No, seriously. Take a look:
There are weird shadows coming out of absolutely nowhere, she has no neck, and do I even need to point out their hands? Actually, it's not just their hands, their entire arms are hideously deformed. Look at the unnatural bend in her left arm and the discrepancy in size between his two wrists. And, um, judging by their faces, these people are dead. Someone should tell them so they can stop running and freaking me out. Seriously, who gave this artwork a pass?
Since her family was murdered when she was 15, small-time thief Kira has been living on the streets of a dying world, doing whatever she needs to survive. She's more than a little panicked one day to wake up handcuffed to the wall in a dark room with no idea how she got there. To make matters worse, there's a convicted rapist and murderer in the room with her, and a disembodied voice has informed her she has less than a minute to escape.
Once she manages her way out of the room, the situation becomes a little more clear. She's been forcibly dropped into a deadly underworld reality show, where the only options are to win the game or meet a painful end. The criminal who was locked up with her is her partner, and to complicate matters, the two of them have been fitted with implants that will explode if they move more than 90 feet away from each other. The game has six levels, each one more difficult than the last, and the further Kira gets into the game, the more twisted around she gets. Nobody seems to be telling her the truth, and with no one to trust, she's not quite sure why she was selected or whether she'll live to survive all six levels.
As you can tell by what might be my shortest plot summary ever, the premise of this book is pretty simple. Kira and Rogan (her criminal partner) spend more or less the entire book trying to figure out a way through the game without dying. It's all very fast-paced and high energy, and while a "life or death" reality show might not be a new concept, it's done well here. The sci fi trappings act as little more than window dressing, though, and while there were some interesting ideas, the focus is on the incredible tension, both in the struggle to get through the game and the romance building between Kira and Rogan.
I really liked Kira, who was a nifty combination of tough and vulnerable. She also has some minor psionic abilities, which essentially mean she can "read" a person and know who they really are, all facades stripped. Using her abilities give her a pounding headache, though, which makes her understandably reluctant to use them. The story is written entirely in her perspective, first person narrative, and her delightful complexity makes for fun and easy reading.
Rogan is presented as a mystery, and Kira (and by extension, the reader) goes back and forth as to who exactly he is. Is he a good guy in an unfortunate spot, or is he the hardened killer he's initially made out to be? Either way, Kira's attracted to his pretty pretty eyes and his sense of humour.
People have talked about the darkness in Countdown, but I have to confess, I actually found the thing to be pretty light reading. It borders on dark, but shirks away just before plunging into that territory. High energy with lots of tension and a little suspense? Yes. Dark and gritty? Not so much. A fun, quick read? Absolutely. Countdown is the futuristic sf/action/romance blend I've come to expect from Dorchester's "Shomi" line of novels (Hidden is another of those titles), so if you're like me and enjoy that sort of combination, this is a good one to pick up.