Once is the second book in the Eve series, which in my opinion is the "sleeper" young adult dystopian series of the past two years. Pleasantly surprised by the first book, Eve, Anna Carey's follow up is equally engaging and readable.
The novel opens with Eve living in Califia, a sanctuary for women, in post-plague United States, now called New America. Califia is an all-female colony that was founded ten years ago in Marin County. Many of the women were escapees from the Government schools, plague survivors and escapees from gangs. It is a refuge for orphaned girls attempting to escape the government breeding centers. Eve fled her school after learning that she had been promised to the King as his future wife, to bear his children. She knows he will continue to search for her and that she will always be hunted.
Although Eve initially felt safe in Califia, she decides to leave after three months, when she learns that Maeve, one of the Founding Mothers of Califia, will use her to barter for the protection of the colony from the King's soldiers, should she be discovered. She decides to leave with her friend Arden who recently showed up in the colony, when she learns that Caleb has been sighted on Route 80. Eve had to leave Caleb behind on the mainland, injured and bleeding when she entered Califia. She deeply misses him and despite the warnings about men from her teachers at the school, she has fallen in love with him.
However, Eve's freedom is short-lived as this turns out to be a trap and she is soon captured and taken by the King's soldiers to the City of Sand. There she learns the real reason behind the King hunting her and that her true name is Genevieve. Living in the Palace with the King, Eve questions how New America is being rebuilt and wants to know how he can justify women being used like cattle and men worked like slaves. He tells her that using Hoover Dam and Lake Mead he has been able to begin rebuilding Las Vegas; restoring hospitals, a school, office buildings, and oil well and refinery, creating housing for people, converting golf courses into vegetable gardens and building factory farms. The King explains to her that the next superpower will be the country with the most people and that he had to make these difficult decisions.
Eve meets some of the King's government and one in particular, Charles Harris, Head of Development seems to like her. Charles is nice enough but Eve continues to worry about Caleb and how she will meet up with him again. That problem is solved when, during a parade showing off Eve as the rescued Princess Genevieve, Eve sees Caleb in a crowd of onlookers. They manage to arrange to meet outside the palace, where their relationship deepens and they fall in love. Eve learns that Caleb is working with dissidents who are planning to attack the city and challenge the King. However, Eve's determination to keep meeting Caleb is bound to create many problems. When the King discovers her secret meetings he sets out to end them and remove Caleb. Eve is a prisoner now in The City of Sand and must do what the King asks of her. Her liaisons with Caleb result in tragedy and force Eve to make an awful choice that could change her life forever.
I enjoyed this novel and felt it didn't suffer from the usual flaws that second novels in a trilogy have. We learn more about Eve's post-plague world and get a sense of how badly the plague destroyed society. We see how choices were made that overstepped the personal freedoms and dignity of women and men.
We also learn more about Eve's family, in particular about her mother and her father. Eve is a well developed character, who shows concern for her friends still caught in the breeding facilities, for Beatrice her maid, and even for the King at times. This makes her believable and puts the reader firmly on her side.
At the same time the story moves forward in a well paced manner, with a few surprises thrown in, some romance, some tragedy, and an unresolved ending. The next installment is sure to be exciting.
Once by Anna Carey
HarperCollins Publishers 2012