2113. In Jenna Strong's world, ACID - the most brutal, controlling police force in history - rule supreme. No throwaway comment or muttered dissent goes unnoticed - or unpunished. And it was ACID agents who locked Jenna away for life, for a bloody crime she struggles to remember.
The only female inmate in a violent high-security prison, Jenna has learned to survive by any means necessary. And when a mysterious rebel group breaks her out, she must use her strength, speed and skill to stay one step ahead of ACID - and to uncover the truth about what really happened on that dark night two years ago.
When I first saw mention of ACID on Twitter back in 2012 I stifled a small yawn, and thought great, just what the world needs, another dystopian YA story. And then I saw Lauren Buckland, one of the top editors at Random House (and someone I rate very highly based on the books she has edited) raving about it, and I started to think that perhaps I might give it a try. Then, when the cover image was unveiled the shallow part of me thought wow - love the cover, I will definitely read that book. And now? Whenever I read another YA dystopian story I will measure it against ACID. Yes, I loved it that much (yes, even more than The Hunger Games).
ACID is set one hundred years in the future, in a Britain that has become a 1984-style authoritarian police state known as the Independent Republic of Britain (IRB), said police being ACID (Agency for Crime Investigation and Defence). The people at the top, no longer elected officials, have cut the IRB off from the rest of the world, and its residents no longer have access to the internet or any form of international news. Personal freedoms are as close to zero as you can get: no marriage/choice of partner - instead there is life-partnering where your LifePartner is chosen for you by the state, or also dictate whether you can have children or not. And like any such regime that has occurred in 'real life' (I'm thinking USSR, North Korea, China), there is a very small minority of people with a huge majority of the wealth, whilst the masses live in poverty and near starvation. London has become a divided city, literally, with areas designated Upper (for the elite), then Middle, and then finally Outer, which is a pretty grim place to live and work, and where you can be arrested for not having the news-feed (i.e. propaganda) screens on for the majority of the time you are at home.
In the middle of all this authoritarian nastiness we meet Jenna, a seventeen year-old girl serving a life sentence in a prison full of men. Jenna was convicted of murdering her parents two years previously, and in that time she has had to become the veritable definition of badass in order to survive. Resigned to a lifetime of incarceration, Jenna is as surprised as anyone when she is broken out of jail by a group of mysterious rebels. This escape becomes the start of a dangerous journey as Jenna begins to question everything she knows, or thinks she knows, about herself, her background and the IRB itself.
I loved everything about this book. Jenna is a superb character, and it is so refreshing to have a female lead who is strong on the outside and the inside, and doesn't spend half the book mooning over the male lead, or stuck in the middle of a teen love triangle. Jenna is the Lara Croft of dystopian YA: independent, fierce, resourceful and seriously, seriously kick-ass. I also loved the all-too-believable future Britain that Emma Pass has crafted. Yes, there are one or two elements that stretch plausibility almost to its limits, but long-time readers of this blog will know that I read to escape, and suspension of disbelief is second nature to me. In fact, I would suggest anyone who struggles with this should stick to reading biographies.
If you like your stories fast and furious then ACID should move right to the top of your must-read list. Emma Pass has managed to fit more action scenes into her story than you will find in many a big budget action film, and yet the pace does not leave you gasping for air as she has this completely under control, giving us just enough plateaus to get our breath back before the action kicks in again.
ACID reads perfectly as a standalone novel, and for once I was really happy about this as I felt that this story needed to be brought to a satisfying conclusion, without any form of cliffhanger leaving us waiting for a sequel. The final chapter has the barest of hints that we may be treated to another Jenna Strong in the future, and I would certainly read it, but I would be just as happy reading anything in this kind of vein if Emma Pass is writing it, and it looks as we will have the opportunity to do just that, with the publication of The Fearless in 2014.
ACID was published on 25th April and thanks go to the ever wonderful people at Random House for sending me a copy. Go out and get your hands on one now - this is one of those books that I will be forcing into people's hands for some time to come.