Shomi, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52755-4
Sci-fi Romance, 2008
Countdown is a simple, if exciting story. Kira Jordan, an orphaned thief who live on her wits, and Rogan Ellis, a convicted murderer and rapist, are forced to play as a team in a game known simply as the Countdown. The Countdown is a game designed for the entertainment of rich folks who are bored of tame fare like Survivor and prefer real-time violence in their reality shows. Kira and Rogan have to make it past six levels of the game, with every level having a condition to be fulfilled within a time limit. The consequence for failing a level is, of course, dire. Adding to the complication is the fact that Rogan may have murdered Kira’s parents in the past. Happy playing, everyone!
One’s enjoyment of Countdown, I suspect, depends on what one’s expectations are. If you like your futuristic action thrillers to be dark, this one may not satisfy because it is not dark at all. In fact, by the last page of the story, Ms Maddox has done a complete reversal on who Rogan is, for example, that I can’t help feeling that this story has tried to embrace one romance novel convention too many. I’d prefer that the characters remain as who they were when they were initially introduced to me. I don’t know, I guess a part of me is really wishing that this is a story where the antiheroes are indeed antiheroes. This one could have been a futuristic Saw with romance, but instead, Ms Maddox chooses to take the safe route so that more genteel readers will be able to sleep easy after reading this book.
Even the execution of the story feels rather timid. For example, in Level Three of the game, they are supposed to kill what is supposed to be an innocent person in order to make it to the next level. Unfortunately, Ms Maddox chooses to have this person reveal himself to be a robot two minutes before the time is up, which allows Rogan to kill that thing while keeping his hands and conscience clean. While some readers may be relieved that Ms Maddox chooses this way out for her characters, I personally am disappointed. I want hard decisions in this story. I want something less clear-cut black and white than this story turns out to be. Besides, the whole “I’ll tell all for the sake of the readers before you kill me!” stunt on the part of the bad guys is always annoying because such a stunt never makes sense outside of Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Kira is crying and wailing too often for my liking to the point that she gets on my nerves, but given that she’s way out of her depths in this story, I can tolerate her. Rogan is the biggest disappointment in this story, though. I still can’t get over how much conventional romance hero trappings Ms Maddox ends up pasting on him. I want a mean, bad, amoral guy, sort of like Riddick in Pitch Black, but… well, maybe I should have watched Pitch Black instead.
I know, it’s not fair to expect an author to write a book that conforms to my expectations. However, the first few chapters have made me eager for some kind of dark and thrilling action adventure tale, so I suppose you can’t blame me for feeling disappointed when Countdown turns out to be something far different. This is a pleasantly enjoyable book, but as I’ve said, it all boils down to expectations. In my case, I expected something different from what is eventually offered.