Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fiction Review: The Last One

I'm always looking for ideas of great thrillers to give my husband as gifts, especially by authors he hasn't read yet, so when I heard my favorite books podcast, Books on the Nightstand (now retired but archived episodes still available), recommend The Last One by Alexandra Oliva, I added it to my list! My husband enjoyed this unique thriller about a survival reality TV show gone wrong, and it was perfect for me this spring, with so much distraction around. This fast-paced novel grabbed my attention and never let me go until the last page.

The reader knows immediately--right from the first line of the prologue--that a horrible pandemic hits (no, I didn't realize this before I started the book!), but of course, none of the characters in the novel know what is coming. Twelve people have signed up for a survival reality show that claims to be unlike anything that has been done before. They are given nicknames for the show, like the Hispanic cowboy known as Rancher, the fit military guy called Air Force, and the gorgeous but unprepared Waitress. The novel mostly focuses on Zoo, a strong but petite woman whose background in zoology and job working with animals earns her the nickname. The first few episodes of the show start pretty much as expected, with a combination of both Solo and Team Challenges, getting to know the contestants, ever-present cameras, and a highly produced final product. One of the unique things about this show is that it begins to air within days of production, so it truly is happening as viewers watch. A few days in, though, during a Solo Challenge, Zoo notices a big change. She can no longer see the cameramen, she truly feels as if she is alone, and the clues she's supposed to follow are no longer obvious. But they've been told that they will be alone for days at a time, and that many of the cameras are hidden, so she fully believes she is still being filmed and is still in the contest. The reader knows, from page 1, that a horrible pandemic has very quickly killed off most of the population (though we don't know any details about it), but as Zoo hikes further and further east, she just thinks that the size of this production is way bigger than she imagined and that with the fake dead bodies and deserted homes and towns, they must have a huge production budget. The narration moves back and forth between the start of the reality show and Zoo's current never-ending slog eastward, so the details are gradually filled in as the two timelines come together.

A big part of the tension here is in the reader knowing what has happened, and Zoo--in her exhausted and hungry state (oh, and she broke her glasses)--just not getting it. As she gives herself pep talks not to get psyched out by the special effects, the reader is freaking out a bit inside thinking, "Zoo, wake up! The dead bodies are real!" The suspense is stupendous as she hikes through both forests and devastated areas; this is a super gripping novel that I stayed up much too late reading each night. The pandemic aspect wasn't too disturbing since it is so different from what we've been dealing with in the real world. In the novel, the unnamed pandemic happens fast--within days, most people are dead-- and out of sight. The reader just sees the aftermath (mostly empty towns and houses) through Zoo's eyes. The focus is always on what Zoo is seeing and experiencing and thinking. I absolutely loved every minute of this novel, and it kept me captivated from beginning to end, which was just what I needed!

290 pages, Ballantine Books

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, with multiple narrators, and/or download it from Audible.

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  1. Sounds a page turner despite the pandemic!

  2. Oh, this sounds really good and intriguing.

    1. Very much, Helen - unique premise!