3.5 stars for The Ward. This is an action packed novel which had me turning the pages to find out just who was on whose side. I get the impression that, although this looks like it is a standalone novel, there will be more to come for these characters.
The Ward takes place in a post Wash Out New York City. The city is under water and a good portion of the population is suffering from the HBNC virus. The majority of those suffering live in the Ward and the “better off” people live in the West Isle. Frankel does a good job building the world and describing the setting. Although there wasn’t much explanation of the Wash Out, the way she described the current state was good – Imagine the Statue of Liberty submerged under water and suspension bridges or boardwalks being used to navigate around the city. The city itself is run by Governor Voss and his legacy is taking a hit due to the virus and lack of freshwater. He also has an underlying agenda to finding the “fresh” as his wife is suffering from HBNC and he believes the freshwater has healing properties. He will do whatever it takes to find the spring and save his wife.
At the heart of this story is the main character, Ren. She is 16 now but three years ago, she swore she would never be involved with the DI (The Blues). The DI is the security and military arm of the government and through a mishap, Ren was caught and is now working for them to help find the fresh. When she accidentally comes across a secret spring, Ren finds herself at the center of a fight that has gone on for longer than she has been alive.
Having grown up in an orphanage, Ren determined it was easier if she didn’t get attached to people. Despite her thoughts around this, there is an exception; Aven – another orphan. Once she returns from her DI training, she finds out that Aven is suffering from the HBNC virus so she hunts her down and it is up to her to take care of them both. This is where her mobile racing comes in – Ren hasn’t lost a race in three years.
Keep in mind, Ren is only 16 years old and at times she really feels like she can’t handle the pressure. I liked Ren – initially she has cut herself off from others but we find that over the last few years she has let a few people into her life. First, there is Aven who she views as a sister. Most everything Ren does is a reflection of what she wants to do to help Aven or what Aven would do if she were in Ren’s shoes. Other important characters revolve around Ren’s mobile racing.
Kent and Jones are the guys that give her a hard time for racing – they don’t like her and the fact that she is a girl and beats them every time only makes them angrier with her. Another person I will add here is Chief Dunn. He is one of those characters that help move the story along but it was never explained as to why he dislikes Ren so much. Other than the fact that he is just doing what the Governor says, he seems to hate Ren an extreme amount.
Benny is Ren’s mech and he has been with her since her first race. He is somewhat of a father figure for Ren and it is clear he cares about her. They have known each other since she was 13 and has been her right hand person during her races. She relies on him for more than just mechanical work and they truly care for each other – almost like family.
Derek is Ren’s bookie but there is more. Secretly (or not so secretly) Ren has had a crush on Derek and although she sometimes feels like he cares for her, there are times where she has the same doubts any teenager would. She doesn’t think she is pretty and often asks herself why she thinks someone like Derek would even care about someone like her. Turns out, Derek is hiding more than his feelings for Ren. I won’t give anything away here but know that I was questioning whose side he was really on and what he was doing. I loved that Ren basically called him out and told him to earn her love. I believe that is what made him make a decision on what he needed to do.
Callum is a new person in Ren’s world and we are introduced to him fairly early on in the story. I didn’t get a sense of him being a love interest for Ren so hopefully it stays that way – although I am sure there are those out there that will hope for something to happen with them. Their friendship actually starts and is based a lot on what they can do for each other. He initially approaches her to find the spring and when she does, she relies on him to produce a cure that she can give to Aven. Once Ren saves him, Callum realizes why she did what she did but he didn’t hold it against her and really, how could he?
Overall I liked this book and if you like post-apocalyptic stories that have interesting characters as well as a solid story, you will most likely enjoy this too. I thought that Frankel did a great job of introducing new elements to a story that has been told before – by including the virus, the Tetai, and the Wash Out, it felt fresh and I stayed engaged throughout the entire story. Some people will say they thought this book ended on a cliffhanger and if there isn’t a second book I will wholeheartedly agree. The exception would be if there is a book two as this was the logical breaking point (in my mind) to conclude the book. With that said, I sincerely hope there is a book two as I am curious to see what happens next with Ren and the rest of her group.