Following a Nuclear disaster (known afterwards as the Cataclysm) the remnants of the human race escaped the uninhabitable Earth for a new life in the stars. 90(ish) years later, a group of 100 juvenile criminals are being sent back to their deserted planet to explore and to determine whether or not it is now safe for re-settlement. Kind of like Wall-E, but with shady teens instead of adorable robots.
The inhabitants of the crumbling space colony live miserable lives governed by The Council- the judges, juries and executioners. They are divided into three sub crafts that are joined by bridges; Phoneix houses the social elite (scientists, doctors, politicians), Arcadia is the sort of middle class and Walden houses the families of the lowest social order. The population is strictly controlled as food, water, materials and oxygen are in low supply. The Council have taken to issuing incredibly harsh punishments on anybody they deem to have threatened to social order or the survival of the human race. Usually it's death. Life on the decaying space-city is becoming more and more unbearable and brutal.
The narrative follows several dispensable young convicts destined for Earth, whether they want to go or not. Clarke is a trainee doctor condemned for Treason- she's angry and she has secrets. Wells is the Councillor's son, who deliberately jeopardised the colony in order to ensure a one-way Earth trip. He feels guilty for landing Clarke, the girl he loves, in prison and has vowed to protect her. Glass escapes the Earth shuttle at the last minute, making a break for her boyfriend Luke- love's star crossed young dream. The last protagonist is Bellamy, a muscled hot-head who forces his way onto the mission to protect his little sister, Octavia.
The plot jumps back and forth, revealing the secrets of each character as they explain why they were confined and the circumstances of their arrest. And they do explain it. It's not slowly and naturally discovered over time through a well crafted structure- it's pure exposition. Massive chunks of flashback in each character's story- Here be Secrets. The narrative moves around, showing the perspective of the four protagonists, but it's still told in the third person. I found that the tone and the style of the writing never really changed to suit the subject, so it was hard to tell at the beginning of each chapter who we were following. The third person style meant that there was no real character coming out of these sections as the reader never gets a proper insight into the characters' heads. We don;t get to hear the story told in their voices and that kind of bugged me- having to constantly check who I was following all the time.
I really, really like the concept of this novel. So the re-settlement of an abandoned Earth isn't a new idea, but sending out a bunch of condemned teens, alone and frightened, as the first scout group seemed to have loads of potential. I was anticipating a tense survival scenario full of drama, cavernous ruins of well-known landmarks, division and friction and themes about the nature of power and the responsibilities of leadership. The very elements that make Charlie Higson's The Enemy series so ridiculously compelling. Once the 100 get to Earth, there's a faintly Lord of the Flies-esque battle for power with some of the more Alpha lads, Clarke whizzes round patching people up and Bellamy struts around being muscly and bad tempered. Where the plot should have really picked up the pace- it just sort of fizzled out and became a flaccid love triangle dilemma for Medic Clarke. They marvel at the weather and the naff musical hyperbole reaches a deafening crechendo. See what I did there.
It is the beginning of a series, so the ending is left open. Well. To be honest there isn't an ending. The first book in most series' is self contained, but not this one. It's not the first of a trilogy, it's the first third of a story. I don't think I'll be bothering with the rest.