Dissident by Cecilia London is the sort of book that normally is not in my wheelhouse. The easiest way to describe this first book in a series is that it's a genre-bender. Part dystopian thriller, part contemporary romance. If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll likely have guessed correctly that it was the "dystopian" label that gave me pause. However, I'm friendly with the author on Twitter and she's a baseball fan (Brewers for her, Tigers for me), so I thought I'd give this a whirl. The best way I can describe the experience? Uneven.
Caroline Gerard is a widow with two young children and a representative in Congress. Her husband, whom she loved very much, died in an accident the previous year. It was a shock that Caroline didn't handle all that well, but she has carried on with her work.
Into her orbit enters John "Jack" McIntyre, newly elected on the Republican side of the aisle. Caroline campaigned for his opponent and did a little mudslinging in the process - but yeah, Jack won the election anyway. Caroline is of the moderate We-Need-To-Work-Together school of American politics that's an endangered species these days, so she's determined to clear the air between them. It's a bumpy apology, but eventually they become friends and then? Something more.
This story is essentially told in flashbacks. It opens with Jack and Caroline on the run. Bad Stuff has happened in the US. California and Texas have seceded. The military is chasing after them because they are "dangerous" - and when they find Caroline? She ends up in a VA hospital in a medically-induced coma. It's while Caroline is in this coma, and her doctors are trying to keep the military from taking custody of her before she's medically cleared, that the author takes us through the courtship of Jack and Caroline.
Here's the thing though: I don't really care. Intellectually, I get what the author is shooting for here. She's building a series, and to build said series she needs to take us through the "relationship stuff" between Jack and Caroline. Of them falling in love. But after a while my interest waned. They have chemistry. They have sex. Jack screws up. They fight (which is actually my favorite part of their courtship - the big ol' fight at the end of the book). What I wanted more of, and got very little of, was the hospital staff trying to keep Caroline safe, and what exactly was going on in this dystopian US. It's teased to the reader and not fleshed out, at all - presumably saved for later books in the series. So the part of this book that I thought I was going to struggle through (the dystopian stuff) - is actually what I wanted a lot more of.
Not helping the romance aspect was the political aspect which seemed - I don't know - like high school. And Caroline is supposedly a Democrat but literally spends THE WHOLE BOOK being BFFs with Republicans (and in Jack's case - having sex with). So yippee that she's a moderate all about compromise and working together to get stuff done - but every other Democrat she runs up against in this book is someone she literally cannot stand. Caroline being BFF's with Republicans but a member of the Democratic party is actually addressed late in the book - but I don't know. How about showing a member of Caroline's own party that she actually likes?
And then there's Jack who I found, some of the time, to be a monumental douchebag. He has a playboy reputation. Lots of money, lots of women, wouldn't know a committed relationship if it found a hammer and hit him upside the head. Then he falls for Caroline and cue the love birds. It's how he talks about his past though that really got my goat. How he freely admits he treated the other women in his life (disposable play things), whom he and Caroline start calling "salad girls." I've been reading romance a long time, and my roots are likely showing here - but anytime an author showcases how awesome the heroine is for the hero by taking jabs at "salad girls," my claws begin to come out. So yeah - Jack? You're a douchebag. Go sit in the corner.
So all this makes it sound like I hated this book - but no, I didn't. I just found it uneven. The dystopian angle is teasing all sorts of interesting possibilities and I loved the scenes in the hospital between Caroline's doctors and the military. But the romance story line dragged on a bit too long and I was growing bored with it until the end when the author introduces that fight (great dialogue in that scene by the way).
As expected (first book in series), the story ends on a cliffhanger - spurring us towards the second installment due out in August. While I wasn't enamored with the lovey-dovey Caroline/Jack stuff, I'm intrigued by the dystopian world that the author teased me with during this first book. So I'll be carrying on to see what happens next.
Final Grade = C
Note: At the time of this review posting, this book is free at most major retailers (I didn't check all of them folks).