California has been getting a lot of press thanks to Steve Colbert’s feud with Amazon. Unfortunately, it is one of those novels that can never live up to the hype. While it is a decent thriller, it is no life-changing story. Given the talk and excitement about it, California is bound to disappoint many readers, especially as it is the first book in yet another series.
California is a good thriller. The origins of Frida and Cal’s post-apocalyptic world are surprisingly commonplace and normal. One cannot even consider it a post-apocalyptic world because there is no major disaster. In fact, there is something absolutely terrifying to see just how ordinary the fall of society is.
That being said, there is something shady about the fall of society. The explanations, what little there are, are incomplete and almost too simplistic. Readers will doubt whether Cal and Frida’s scenario is wholly realistic, something that is vital in end-of-the-world stories. This doubt is not enough to discount the entire novel, but it will raise questions that may poke holes into the rest of the story.
There is a surprisingly large amount of political debate and philosophy in California. Cal’s educational background lends itself to such rumination, as does Frida’s connections with certain protest groups. In many ways, their flight into the wilderness and self-imposed isolation is another political statement rather than a survival gambit. All of their actions raise questions about the best for society, the need for government involvement, and various socio-economic debates. All of these deep-seated questions may detract from the life-and-death situation in which Cal and Frida find themselves.
California is a fast read. A lot happens in a relatively short period of time, and readers must be able to keep up to make sense of what is happening. This is especially true when the story strays into philosophical and sociological territory. That this is the first story in a series is also somewhat frustrating as readers obtain no closure. It is not a cliffhanger ending, but the story is definitely incomplete when it ends. Again, this is not necessarily a negative element of the novel but could disappoint readers not expecting it.
As previously stated, California is a decent story. Creative, well-written, and intense, it follows a merging trend of downfalls of society caused by the most commonplace things. The characters are complex and therefore realistically frustrating. The setting is well-defined and easily imagined. The action is fast-paced and suspenseful. Unfortunately, the hype is just too great right now for readers not to feel some disappointment upon finishing it. For, while it is a good story, it is not a terribly fantastic one as the buzz may lead readers to anticipate.