The Prey by Tom Isbell

Somewhere about the 4% mark, I began to realize that this was not going to be the book for me. Writing chops can make or break a book and this felt shallow, flat, and cliche’d from the very start. It’s the sort of book you want to quote to make fun of, which is surprising considering how many really poorly written books are inexplicably fangirl’d these days.  Those who are looking to avoid yet another sloppily written, illogical YA dystopian with copious amounts of meaningless action culminating in a soppy insta-luv romance should avoid The Prey. Which isn’t to mean this is a terrible book; rather, a reader has to be very undemanding to fully appreciate the story and take it fully at face value. But as a time waster, there really are so many better options out there.


Story: Book lives at a camp for boys – inmates are called LTs and they are sure it means they are in training to be lieutenants in a dystopian American army. Hope and her sister Faith have been on the run with their father but when he dies, they are quickly captured and sent to a special all-girls camp. Book soon learns the truth about his camp when a new boy shows up – one who knows what’s really going on.  For Book is a Less Than, and along with twin girls at a neighboring camp, they are unneeded and serve only as experimentation or hunting options. Book will fall instantly in love with Hope at a visit to her camp and gets an urge to rescue her. From there, they will have to survive a dystopian landscape deadly with all kinds of perils – both human and animal. All the while being hunted.

For me, it was within the first few pages that we have an example of the problem with the book: illogical scenes and lack of realistic character building. Following is a scene where two girls have lost their mother earlier, are on the run and desperate, and their father is dying of an infection. We get a dialogue on his death scene as follows:

“One Thing,” her father says, “You have a choice to make.” …”There’s a reason the government’s after us.”
[Hope]”Yeah, because you didn’t sign the loyalty oath.”
He gives his head a shake. “That’s just part of it.”
What is he about to tell her? And why does she feel a sudden dread?
“Go on,” She says.
“You’re twins.”
“Hope sighs in relief. “Gee, I had no idea.”
He continues on, “..and the government wants twins.”
Hope cocks her head. Where’s her father going with this? Is he delirious with fever or is this for real? “I don’t get it. What’s so special about twins?”
He grimaces. “You have a choice to make. Either stay together…which means you’ll be hunted the rest of your life…”
“Or what?” She dares to ask. She realizes she has ceased to breathe.
[father]”Or Separate.”

And then they are interrupted by her sister entering and he says no more – just dies.

In the above abridged dialogue, as soon as we have the sarcastic answer from the daughter, the writer has lost me. I don’t know of many people who are terrorized and watching their last parent die who will be so flippant. It belies their desperate situation. But then to add the cliche that the father never explains WHY the government wants twins – to torture and experiment upon – and that he seems to think they have a choice to stay together and die is ridiculous. And do we have to have the cliche of a parent not telling the child the whole story just so the writer can ‘surprise us’ later? Because that is a recurring motif – someone about to import important information to the protagonist but then being interrupted so all they do is hint. It just translates as weak writing to me, all for the sake of DRAMA. It was hard not to roll my eyes every time it happened.

It’s logic, inconsistency, and character issues that are a problem throughout the book. Coupled with very pedantic writing using nearly every cliche metaphor in the book, and it becomes obvious that the reader would have to have a huge lack of sophistication in order to overlook the glaring issues. By the end, the pace does pick up enough to where the writing issues can get ignored (or, perhaps, the reader becomes inured?) so that reading the story is not a complete loss. But then again, the author adds nothing new to the genre and certainly this isn’t a tale that hasn’t been told a thousand times. Do we really need more evil dystopian leaders torturing for sport or their own ends?

There were some ‘surprises’ that were pretty obvious from the start. And all the characters were walking cardboard cutouts given perspective only as they relate to main character Book.  Although we have a second POV through Hope, really all she is in the story is a means to give Book heroic acts. Even her name only has value in context to how he feels about her.

The goings-on at both camps, boys’ and girls’, were just silly. E.g., if you are raising boys to be prey but they are ignorant, it’s probably a bad idea to let a captured new boy into the camp who makes it obvious he knows what is really going on. As well, with the girls, the experiments made no sense and certainly didn’t need twins – just bodies. No use was made of the ‘same DNA’ to make it worthwhile to hunt twins specifically (and why just girls? Twin boys would work just as well). It just seemed so pointless and ill conceived.

Add in the most egregious insta-luv (he spots her from across a yard and suddenly she is his messiah, even after he sneaks away from his handlers (when he is already in deep trouble from knowing about another inmate’s escape!!) to talk with her and she’s a jerk. And Hope moons over him right before he’s about to save her but doesn’t think about him much before that. And yeah, she’s mooning during critical scenes right when she loses everything but convenient forgets she’s grieving). Because the characters were so ill defined, their age felt more like 12 or 13. When the kissing and petting starts, I actually felt uncomfortable because neither character had any maturity or depth. It was like watching middle school kids make out.

Finally, the ending was inexplicable and illogical. For characters to have gone through what they did and yet not take a moment to restock, rest, and heal, seems idiotic, in the least (and unbelievable since they survived based on luck). Not characters I would want to follow further in the next book in the series.

Reviewed from an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher. Quotes may change upon publication.

This entry was posted in ARC, Book Reviews, dystopian, romance. Bookmark the permalink.

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