Genres: Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Published by Penguin Group USA on January 28, 2014
Reviewed by: Kate
Kissing, implied sexual situations
"A cool and compelling" (Flavorwire) debut of a new postapocalyptic world for fans of The Hunger Games
On the screen and on the page, dystopian fantasies have captivated the public imagination. In The Office of Mercy, debut novelist Ariel Djanikian has conceived a chilling, post-apocalyptic page-turner that has earned her glowing comparisons to George Orwell and Suzanne Collins.
In America-Five, there is no suffering, hunger, or inequality. Its citizens inhabit a high-tech Utopia established after a global catastrophe known as the Storm radically altered the planet. Twenty-four-year-old Natasha Wiley works in the Office of Mercy, tasked with humanely terminating—or "sweeping"—the nomadic Storm survivors who live Outside. But after she joins a select team and ventures Outside for the first time, Natasha slowly unravels the mysteries surrounding the Storm—and the secretive elders who run America-Five.
I’m going to be completely honest here and say what we’re all thinking - a comparison to both George Orwell and Suzanne Collins in the same sentence doesn’t exactly make sense, does it? And while I appreciate the publisher’s desire to pull in THE HUNGER GAMES’ audience, if you go into THE OFFICE OF MERCY looking for another Katniss, you’re going to be disappointed. Not because THE OFFICE OF MERCY is in any way inferior to THE HUNGER GAMES, but it’s a totally different type of book - in the same way that Collins and Orwell wrote very different works, even though they may both have books that take place in dystopian environments.
THE OFFICE OF MERCY is clearly literary fiction. It may have dystopian and science-fiction elements, but the story is focused on Natasha and her significant internal conflict. The “genre” elements are background to the character growth and the stories of the people of America 5. There’s a lot in the way of moral and ethical dilemmas, with situations Natasha is put in that are so hard to conceive with our modern day sensibilities, but that Djanikian takes and convinces you are totally reasonable. There is also a bit of a young adult feel to the book, as well, despite the fact that Natasha is in her twenties. The way the romance plays out, the powerful elders, and the plot line of self-discovery all lend themselves to a young adult vibe. This should not, however, in any way discourage you from reading it.
Djanikian’s writing is magical. THE OFFICE OF MERCY does not feel in any way like a debut novel. There’s a clean, deliberate feeling to the prose, which flows smoothly across the pages. She has a very matter-of-fact way of telling the story, giving the impression that each word was carefully considered, with the total effect being a book that didn’t seem as long as it was. It was so easy to get lost in the pages, entranced by the story.
THE OFFICE OF MERCY has action and romance, and leaves the reader with lots to think about. It was a fascinating exploration into the gray area of humanity, and what humans are capable of doing when they view something as lesser. No one character is perfectly in the right - there is ambiguity that allows the reader to think for themselves and form opinions. THE OFFICE OF MERCY isn’t a light read, by any means, but it is definitely worth the time you’ll invest in it.
NB: As a person of Armenian heritage, I found the first question/answer in this interview with the author fascinating. For all you other Armenians (or not), it puts an interesting spin on one of the main moral quandaries of the novel. Just wanted to share.