Review of Apocalypse Five (Archive of the Fives #1) by Stacey Rourke

The end of the world is coming. How or when, scientists can’t agree upon. For decades, Earth’s best line of defense has been a team of young soldiers known as the Apocalypse Five, forced into virtual reality simulations to train for Doom’s Day. But, this is no game. Death on the grid is brutally final and calls up the next in a long line of cadets. Stationed aboard the AT-1-NS Starship, the A5 are celebrities thrust into the limelight by a calling they didn’t choose. All it takes is one unscheduled mission, showing seventeen-year-old team leader Detroit a harsh and unfathomable reality, to shake the A5’s belief in all they thought they knew. After questioning people with the power to destroy them, the team is framed for a crime they didn’t commit and marked for death. Now, the hunt is on. Can the Apocalypse Five expose the truth the starship would kill to keep hidden? Or, will their bravery end in a public execution?

Meet the Apocalypse Five, a band of rockstar status soldiers going into deadly battles whilst living a big brother house existence. In a Buffy esque “when one slayer dies another is chosen” world, cadets are nothing but numbers until a calling into the A5 grants them a name, for Detroit and her team, they are the longest running A5 group and have garnered far higher celebrity status than most.  The idea that this team are being watched both privately and on the field for the enjoyment of the masses is pretty tough to swallow, and sets the tone that the world we’re seeing has almost forgotten that children as young as 13 are being put in deadly scenarios. What makes that society worse for me is the ghoulish product placement that the team need to find time for whilst fighting for their lives. Yet this is normal and had the impact that for me as a reader, I often had to remind myself of just how young they are. There is a clear influence from the Hunger Games in the early stages of the book and I felt at times that it was struggling to form it’s own identity, but when the tables turn about 1/3 a way in it very much comes into its own.

As far as world building goes, much is left to the imagination as Apocalypse Five is very much story driven. The pace is pretty relentless, so pages about the space station would have detracted from that. Whilst I’m usually a world building girl, I can appreciate why the author chose not to go down that route this time. One thing that this book has is a HUGE twist, you can kind of see it coming not long before the team do, but it turns the entire story on it’s head. It’s a real mic drop moment as the enormity settles. Interestingly the story moves into 2 parallel paths as we also come to understand how the children became part of the space station crew, it’s a point which slowly burns alongside adding some anxiety to the pace.

I found the characters pretty interesting, It could be easy to be flippant about their depth, but these are children who have grown with very little nurturing and ability to explore their emotions. Their days are spent watching others die and waiting to hear if it would be their turn next, that’s going to stunt anyone. I think it was a brave move to have these characters very shut down, with only false bravado for the camera’s where they know they are wanted. Their use of different coping strategies is actually a little heartbreaking when you have a 17 year old alcoholic and a 13 year old obsessed with old movies of a happier time. I realise that I am painting them as a sad bunch – but their friendship is rock solid and that’s what makes them endearing and a formidable team.

Unfortunately the author painted herself into a difficult corner, in that the premise and the twist are so intrinsically linked that for the first 3rd of the book, I’m sorry to say, I was pretty baffled by what the wider arc was. I don’t mind books that hit the ground running but it needs to be quickly backed up with context, otherwise the narrative stutters.  It becomes clear why it had to be that way as the story continues, but it did mean that I struggled to get into an early flow. At one point I thought my ebook had started beyond a prologue so I stopped and went back… this was quite a big issue for me so I’ve reduced the rating down accordingly.

Apocalypse Five is a fast paced read with a real cinematic feel, Detroit walking along a rocket launcher decimated beach described as looking like a goddess of chaos and war, was one of my favourite lines – and gives you an idea of the scale. It has plenty of feels without being sappy and is thought provoking without even realising. I initially thought this was a standalone but those last lines will want you clamouring for book 2!

4*

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