Tella Halloway is annoying, and everything I despise in a protagonist. She’s not that bright, worried more about the shallow things in life like nail polish and fashion, and she’s stuck in the middle of nowhere with her family. Her brother is terminal, and her relationship with him is almost normal, considering.
Tella immediately receives a mysterious package, with instructions on how to become a Contender in something called the Brimstone Bleed. It’s a race, you guys, across several different and grueling biomes. The winner gets a cure for the terminally ill patient of their choice. Catch? Her parents are trying to keep the Brimstone Bleed a secret from her, and she’s got 48 hours to make it from middle of nowhere Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska.
She runs off without another thought in her pretty little head, except the one where she remembers to pack purple nail polish so she can look stellar. Never mind the fact that her parents didn’t want her to know about the competition or that they tried to cover it up as a joke and keep her at home. Never mind that she stole a car and trekked across country on the faith of a google search. She has to reach her destination and participate in selecting something called a Pandora!
Of course, Tella doesn’t grab an egg immediately and gets left with the broken one on the floor. Then she follows her mysterious instructions to a train station, takes a mysterious pill and wakes up in the jungle. Here, with the other Contenders, she’s expected to trek through the jungle and make it to base camp in order to continue to the next leg of the journey.
The jungle is full of surprises, none of which Tella is prepared for. She’s not prepared for flesh eating ants or leeches or killer chimps. Through this, she somehow survives and stumbles upon a campsite full of other Contenders who are more than happy to take her in. Her Pandora, or animal companion that hatched out of that egg she chose before the race started, is much smaller compared to the rest.
Her new group of allies are varied in their back stories, demographics and reasons for being in the competition. Despite these differences, they work well together and when they are attacked by a grizzly Pandora, they quickly subdue both him and his handler. The grizzly Pandora attack adds two more members to their group, the grizzly’s handler in order to keep an eye on him and the brooding and mysterious Guy Chambers.
Now, Guy Chambers is apparently the love interest. He is brooding and full of mystery and his motives for being in the Brimstone Bleed go far beyond saving a family member. He is described in a bipolar fashion. Sometimes he looks like a serial killer. Other times he has dreamy blue eyes. Always, Tella is compelled to follow, stare at or kiss him.
Despite hardships, the team makes it through one leg of the race, only to immediately be thrown into the second biome, a desert. This leg of the race is full of hardships that extend past the obvious terrain induced ones. A few reveals are made involving some of the teammates. One is pretty obvious and I saw it coming from the point of meeting the character, but the other is a bit more subtle. There is only a passing mention that could even hint towards it, hiding in an offhanded snarky comment. The mention stood out at the time, as out of place as it was to me, making the reveal more of a, ‘duh’, moment than an actual reveal.
The finish line of this leg of the race also requires a surprise price. Tella got lucky and she was able to complete this leg of the race with her dignity and compassion intact.
After the race, the reason for the Brimstone Bleed and Guy’s ulterior motives are revealed. Yet, despite learning about them, Tella doesn’t ask any questions. She just blankly nods and accepts everything she’s told as fact. Sure, she speculates a little, but anyone else in that situation would be demanding plenty more than what she was given.
I enjoyed the book overall. Full of plot holes, questions and inconsistent heroines, it still wove a compelling, attention grabbing tale. It’s more of a summer blockbuster in literary form, than a wonderful literary masterpiece. It read quickly and kept me interested. We will have to see how the followup pans out.