SICK begins rapidly with an interesting premise—an army community is dying of a fast acting disease. The disease is not natural. The dead and dying are the victims of intentional infection. The people seeking to cure him have separated the main character, Captain Daniel Ash, from his children. Wait, are these people trying to cure Ash and his family? Or are they the ones who have experimented upon Ash’s family? We quickly learn that Ash and his family have varying levels of immunity to the disease. Shortly after that, someone breaks Ash out of his quarantine imprisonment and the race to save his children begins.
SICK gives us all the things we want in a conspiracy thriller: action, uncertainty, trust issues, twists, and revenge. One of the most frustrating aspects of the tale is that we see things through Ash’s eyes to the point where we learn as little about the shadowy organizations between which Ash is caught as he does. But while some might view that as a problem with the tale, I think it will end up being SICK’s strong suit in the long run. Battles isn’t fooling around with this story. It goes for the jugular and he’s planning on it being the first shot in a series. The sequel, EXIT NINE, should be available later this year. Battles knows how to set up a series. He’s given us an adrenaline-inducing first chapter in a larger tale. The immediate story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Although it leaves many, many questions unanswered, each one can be seen as carefully created in view of the author’s intention to deliver a series (The Project Eden Series).
In some cases, the careful omission of the whole truth can be a detriment though. It wasn’t clear until the end, that some of the peripheral characters were being groomed to play a larger part in future books of the series. (I won’t spoil by saying which ones.) It also isn’t entirely clear at the end of SICK, whether certain characters that lived through it will be featured in later books of the series or if they were just supporting cast for this book. All part of the mystery. By the end, you get the sense that the author knows the answers to all these questions, he just hasn’t told the reader yet. Each mystery (including which characters will reappear in Book 2) seems well thought out and the answers carefully concealed. If you enjoy serial fiction, like I do, these things won’t be a knock against the story in your eyes. You’ll be content to learn the answers in future stories. Some people will want all the answers from a single novel though, and those readers might find that SICK doesn’t sit well with them.
The reader might find the lack of knowledge on some of these issues frustrating, but again, the gorgeousness of it is that Battles wanted you to feel as if you don’t have all the information. That’s the way Ash is feeling. That’s the way you should feel. Ash is our window in this world of clandestine agencies and revolutionary factions. He wants his kids back and he wants vengeance on those that have attacked his family, so that’s where his focus is. As a father, I know that’s where mine would be. Ash doesn’t start asking the right questions about the motivations of those lined up against him or those allied with him until he’s well along on the roller coaster—but again, that just makes perfect sense.
Because SICK is a thriller with twists and secrets, writing a review that touches on all aspects is challenging. Without providing any spoilers on this aspect (because the reveal is great), let me just say that the motivation for the antagonists of the series is both prescient and relevant in today’s world, and it is a perfect MacGuffin on which to hang the Machiavellian schemes of the villains.
I can’t wait to read EXIT NINE and find out more.