Review: Countdown by Michelle Rowen

countdownCOUNTDOWN
Michelle Rowen
Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: October 1, 2013

From the back cover:

3 seconds left to live. Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped. 

2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game. 

Kira Jordan survived her family’s murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis. 

1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it. 

Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira’s psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan’s secrets prove evermore deadly, Kira’s only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can’t escape.

GAME OVER

The premise of COUNTDOWN reminded me so much of THE RUNNING MAN, a 1987 film (yes, I’m dating myself!) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, where convicted criminals must compete on a television show to escape death at the hands of professional killers. (Note: This movie is loosely based on a book of the same name written by Stephen King under the name Richard Bachman). Because of the similarity, I had to step out of my normal contemporary YA comfort zone and give this book a try.

The story opens with Kira waking up in a dark, unfamiliar place. She’s handcuffed to the wall, disoriented, and also not alone. A boy has been placed in the room with her — a criminal that is said to have murdered girls in cold blood. Before she can get her bearings, the countdown begins. From that moment on, Kira and Rogan are on the run, slaves to the clock, and although they’ve learned the hard way not to trust anyone, they must rely on each other if they’re going to figure out who is behind the Countdown and how to stop it before it stops them.

I appreciated the fast pace of this book. There’s never a dull moment and the plot never suffers from stagnation. Kira and Rogan are likeable enough characters and we get just enough sense of the world they inhabit to where we can follow along without being confused.

However, there is a lot going on here, between the rules of Countdown, the technology, Kira’s psi ability, Rogan’s backstory, and a dystopian society that the story begins to have kind of a kitchen sink feel to it. Because of this, it lacks in the world building and I never fully understood how the society came to be, who the important players were and what this elusive ‘Colony’ where Kira dreamed of living out her life was all about. I would have also liked to see her psi ability as a more integral part of the plot. It seemed thrown in there at the last minute, and in all honesty, the story would have been the same without it.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book. It was fun to step out into a dystopian world for a change and I found COUNTDOWN to be a great weekend read, filled with just enough thrills, chills and romance to keep me interested to the very end.

NOTE: This book was originally published in 2008 as an adult novel under the name Michelle Maddox. COUNTDOWN is a refreshed edition, re-imagined for the young adult market.

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