As someone who is a huge fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels like Huxley’s Brave New World or Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, I was looking forward to reading The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian. The author meticulously built the world of America-Five for her twenty-four year old protagonist Natasha, but I had higher expectations. After I was a third of the way through the book, I had to look it up to see if the novel was marketed for the YA crowd. Nope. It was marketed for adults (with hopes for a crossover into the YA genre, I’m sure). The writing style, character development and fairly predictable plot made me feel like I was reading a YA dystopian novel akin to The Hunger Games (which I didn’t like).
I felt betrayed by the book’s description and its marketing to an adult audience. Perhaps if I went into it expecting a YA novel, I would not have been disappointed. This is not to say that The Office of Mercy is a not a good novel. It was not the caliber I expect adult dystopian fiction to be. I thought about giving up on it. As I was already halfway through the book, I powered through the rest of the novel.
Natasha is one of the youngest citizens of America-Five, an enclosed structure that boasts the largest population of any of the post-apocalyptic America structures across the land. Everything the citizens need to survive is inside. They never venture to the Outside where it’s dangerous. Their are germs, wild animals, and nomadic people. People who have survived the apocalypse and have to fight for survival. Natasha works in The Office of Mercy, whose job is to track these Outside tribes and eliminate their suffering, usually by annihilating them. Natasha and the citizens of America-Five are taught to believe that it is better to kill them than to let them suffer starvation, cold, and war. After such an occurrence, Natasha realizes that these mercy killings might not be as ethical as she’s been taught.
For a twenty-four year old, Natasha seems incredibly naive and easily swayed by others. She didn’t have a mind of her own or really take the time to analyze all of her evidence before taking (and switching) sides. Her thought processes were repetitive when she did try to think things through. I think a more appropriate age for Natasha might be sixteen, but then the book would have to be marketed as a YA novel.
I found myself skimming the many pages where America-Five’s Ethics Code was being preached. I understand that explaining the code is crucial to explaining America-Five’s mindset, but its ethics was constantly repeated throughout the novel. As if I should be brainwashed into it as well. The plot wasn’t completely predictable at the end but by that time I was just wanted the story to be done. The ending is semi-open ended with a possibility of a sequel. Which I guess depends on the success of the novel.
By now you probably think I hate YA novels. It’s not that I dislike them. I prefer to read adult science fiction and fantasy for its rich, complex worlds and characters. I just feel a bit bamboozled into thinking The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian is an adult novel when it should really be categorized as Young Adult.
I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.