Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Ward by Jordana Frankel

The Ward is another dystopian novel that focuses on the events experienced by one girl, Renata (Ren) Dane, over the period several days in flooded New York City. The story is narrated by Ren beginning at 1:00 AM Saturday and ending on the following Monday at 7:00 AM.

Ren is a champion mobile racer. She lives in the Ward, which is what downtown Manhattan is now known. Years ago sea levels rose due to the creation of global gases resulting from a meteor which collided with a glacier in Antarctic. New York City was flooded.

Post flood the area is part of the United Metro Isles. The Ward is a residential area, shaped like a U. Across the Hudson Strait lies West Isle where the healthy and wealthy reside in shiny skyscrapers.  After the flooding people began to sicken and die from an illness known as the Blight.

Ren is also a mole for the Division Interial a sort of police force that hunts for fresh water and polices the Ward. She became a mole after she was caught escaping the orphanage with a younger girl named Aven. To save herself and Aven, she agrees to work for the Blues to hunt out fresh water sources. The money she makes from this and her racing allow her to support Aven who has become sick with the Blight.

The novel opens with Ren being offered a great deal of money to throw her next race, so as to scout out a potential fresh water source in Quadrant 9. She is offered this by Dr. Justin Cory who tells her he is an agent with the DI.

However, the race goes terribly wrong when her mobile car doesn't function properly causing Ren to crash into the canals of Quadrant Nine in the Ward. Injured and badly cut up, Ren manages to climb into an abandoned building where miraculously she finds a hidden spring in an abandoned subway tunnel beneath the building. She drinks the water while refilling her canteen with a sample and experiences a sort of hot flash which, at the time she doesn't pay much attention to.

Ren is rescued by her bookie, Derek, and another racer, Terrance and returns home to Aven. She allows Aven to drink most of the fresh water she has in her canteen as she seems sicker than usual. At this time her building experiences a raid by the DI chief, Dunn, who tells Ren that there is no one named Justin Cory in DI. Nevertheless, Ren gives the water sample to Dunn, telling him where it is located.

The next day Ren finds her wounds almost healed and unbelievably, Aven recovered enough to have followed Ren to The Tank, a local party spot for racers. Aven's appearance and Ren's miraculous healing do not go unnoticed especially when Aven has a deadly relapse while at the Tank. She is taken to Ward Hope Hospital by Dr. Justin Cory who Ren learns is really a scientist, Callum Pace. Pace was part of the Blue's Young Scientist Curriculum headed up by Governor Voss working on a cure for the HBNC virus. Callum knew that a girl was scouting for a freshwater source, but he also knew that the Governor was hoping one of the moles would rediscover the fountain of youth. From Callum Ren learns that when Voss was a young medical student he claimed to have found a spring that was a fountain of youth. Ren realises that her rapid healing and Aven's remarkable but unstable recovery are due to the water from the hidden spring. With Aven desperately sick in hospital, Ren must return to get more water for Callum to use.

When she and Callum return to the location of the spring, to their horror, it has been covered over and sealed. Ren cannot understand who would do this since only three people know about the spring. Callum escapes with a sample of the water laden mud in the hopes he can extract the water, while Ren is captured by Chief Dunn who tells her that Aven will not be treated until she finds another spring.

When she returns to the hospital, Ren is taken to meet Governor Voss who tells her that the spring is ancient and holds the cure for all of humanity's problems. Voss tells Ren that a group of people, known as the Tetai, guard the spring and that someone Ren knows must belong to the Tetai. Governor Voss shows Ren a letter from an ancestor, Willem Van Kieft, who talks about not being able to defeat the Lenape tribe because they are able to resurrect themselves using water from the "Minetta Brook". The Tetai are identified by a special tattoo. The Governor gives Ren a carved Trojan horse to give to the Tetai and instructs her to report to Chief Dunn in four hours with the Tetai's response to his demand.

What now ensues is a race to save Aven, and the sick of the Ward. Ren must relocate the spring, deal with the Tetai and prevent Governor Voss from unleashing a terrible action on those ill with the Blight under the guise of a cure.

The Ward is a plot driven novel that gradually draws readers into the predicament faced by Ren and Aven and also by the inhabitants of the Ward. Frankel's initial hook is a weak one - Ren is commissioned by an unknown DI agent to find another fresh water source - and readers will find themselves slogging through the first one hundred pages or so. But the story takes off from there as Ren is in a race against time to save her adopted sister Aven, herself and thousands of sick in the Ward.

There's not much character development; we know little about any of the characters except how they fit into the plot. There's the typical love triangle between Ren, Derek and Callum and a sinister villain, Governor Voss, whom all three are working against. Ren is a genuinely strong young woman whose devotion to her adopted sister, Aven, is touching. She is immune to the HBNC virus and seems to have incredible physical stamina.

Frankel based some of her ideas on historical tidbits. For example, the Minetta Brook actually did exist in Manhattan but has since disappeared. Likewise, Lenni Lenape were a real Indian tribe who clashed with the Dutch settlers who settled on their ancestral lands.

Although the amazing cover will lead readers to pick up this novel, they might be disappointed at the slow start and the confusing nature of post-apocalyptic New York. Perhaps a map of the United Metro Isles would help readers not intimately familiar with Manhattan better understand the setting. The condensed time frame also doesn't help because it truly feels like these events are happening over a period of weeks. At any rate, die hard fans of dystopian novels will enjoy this. Otherwise give this lengthy novel a pass.

Book Details:
The Ward by Jordanna Frankel
New York: Katherine Tegen Books
465 pp.

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