what went down
In a post-apocalyptic future, what’s left of America is divided into nine city-states that have reverted to no freedom, no technology, and antiquated restriction of females. Decades ago, a rich businessman seeking a new source of renewable fuel had crews drill through the earth’s crust. They woke up fire-breathing monsters who tracked prey by sound and possibly drawn to the noise (or maybe just because they’re violent), they destroyed all densely populated areas each time they surfaced. The military flooded those areas with traps and promptly died. The government sent one last-ditch mission of soldiers and geologists to seal the beasts back under the earth. This mission was led by Commander Chase, but they failed but survived, and there was no government left when they returned. Chase’s team took charge, and spread out into nine city states ruled by himself and his team members, offering shelter and protection in exchange for allegiance. The last remaining monster was dubbed “The Cursed One” and through some means we don’t know, the Commander’s team is able to keep them outside of their city walls. Commander Chase built his city-state closer to the Cursed One’s den than any of the other leaders. The city-states are surrounded by a forest called the Wasteland, which contains the ruins of America’s cities and has grown up over most signs of civilization, though some houses remain. There’s almost no technology left, although citizens have identity chips in their wrists and the leaders have scanners to keep their population in control.
The Commander apparently hates women and has designed his society to keep them weak and uneducated. A man from each girl’s family is named as her Protector, and her husband becomes her new Protector upon being “Claimed” by him. Women can’t walk anywhere without their Protector or the Commander will have them flogged. It is safe to say that the Commander is a giant wad of human crap. Jared Adams went against these laws and taught his daughter Rachel to read, fight, track and protect herself.
- Rachel’s dad (Jared Adams), a courier and tracker, went into the Wasteland and hasn’t returned. Everyone but Rachel believes he’s dead. Oliver, a friend of her father’s and Rachel’s surrogate grandfather, will be named as her Protector. Rachel’s mother died a long time ago and she has no one else.
- Logan McEntire, 19, is her dad’s apprentice, and Rachel doesn’t like him (because she did when she was 15 and he rejected her out of loyalty to her father).
- The Commander summons them and legally declares that Jared is dead. His will specifies that Logan will become her Protector until her Claiming when she turns 17. Rachel protests but Logan intervenes before the Commander can punish her for her insolence, and says that he will agree to take on Rachel and she’ll move in with him.
- Rachel agrees to go until her father returns, which leads the Commander to suspect that she knows his whereabouts. Logan assures him it’s wishful thinking but the Commander is not convinced and threatens them both.
- Rachel decides to go over the Wall and find Jared with or without Logan’s help. Logan is afraid that Rachel will do something crazy and tells her they’re not leaving the city, but he’s actually inventing a tracking device to help him find Jared.
- Angry Rachel goes to the market alone despite the risks while Logan is on a supply run. While Logan is making black market contacts (with Thom and Drake), Rachel finds someone to take her to Oliver’s bakery stall. There are guards everywhere, but Rachel says goodbye to Oliver and takes off for the Wall.
- Logan shows up at her friend Sylphia’s house where Rachel is supposed to be, but obviously she’s not, and takes off running. He finds her just as she gets over the Wall but Rachel runs directly into the Commander.
- The Commander believes she knows where Jared is and doesn’t believe Rachel is strong enough to attempt to track him and protect herself like she claims, then sneers over the foolishness of women in general. We hate him.
- Logan tries to keep her from telling the Commander anything important, but Commander Crapface has got a sword to her neck and she has to admit that Jared took her on his last mission to the city-state of Rowansmark where someone gave them a mysterious package as they were leaving the city. It’s well known that Commander Chase and his former major James Rowan don’t get along and frequently send spies to each other’s city-states.
- Jared hid the package on the way home and the Commander decides Logan and Rachel will fetch it for him.
- He is also way skeevy toward Rachel for the first of many times in the novel, because what’s a little misogyny without a perverted villain?
- Logan also notices a ring on the Commander’s finger, a blood-red stone bisecting by a gold dragon talon.
- Logan and Rachel return home, arguing, and Logan finally shouts that they were GOING to go after Jared if she’d just been patient and then he almost kisses her.
- They go for more supplies and the Commander has guards following them. Logan says he’s dropping Rachel at Oliver’s because the people he’s meeting with are rebels and if he gets caught, at least she won’t go down with him. Rachel wants to go anyway because she’s tough, but Logan convinces her that if he is caught, someone has to go look for her dad. It’s super cute.
- Oliver takes Rachel for a walk, and she realizes that if she and Logan leave, the Commander will probably torture Oliver for information or just spite because he is the kind of sadistic douchebag that would do that kind of thing.
- The ground begins to shake, signaling that the Cursed One will surface (outside the Wall); it’s trading day so people are outside and in danger. Rachel and Oliver get knocked down and the Cursed One is spewing fire everywhere. The Commander rides in and walks up to it, Cursed One turns tail and goes back underground. Both Rachel and Logan notice the Commander eyeballing Rachel and Oliver together and decide he’s in danger. Despite his age and slowness, they’ll have to take him along. If you’re thinking Luke Skywalker and his aunt/uncle, you are on the right track.
- Logan works on the tracking device while Rachel spars with her father’s Switch, a staff with one weighted end and one end concealing a blade. She’s good with knives and arrows but needs more practice with the Switch. Logan invented it and agrees to teach her. He’s also working on a tracking device for Rachel because Logan always has 57 back up plans and figures the Commander will betray them at some point. He’s also worried that the Commander will eventually assault her and tells her to fight back if she has to.
- Flashback: Logan’s father died before he was born, and the Commander wouldn’t let his mother be Claimed again. He defied protocol and assigned himself as her Protector, but didn’t check on her weeks at a time. He’s hated Logan from the start for some reason we don’t know. Some of the good men in town (Jared, Oliver) would take them food when they could, but then Oliver got sick when Jared was gone and Logan’s mother went to the market because Logan was starving to death. She got caught and the Commander had her killed. Logan was declared a social outcast at the age of six and left to fend for himself.
- Logan and Rachel spar and he almost kisses her again but Oliver interrupts. DANG IT OLIVER. Oliver is actually fine with their budding romance but wants to make sure Logan treats his girl right, which is adorable.
- Oliver was talking to some of the highwaymen (travelling traders who go between city-states. They’re not bad guys exactly but it’s better to stay away from them.) who were saying that Jared is the most wanted man in the Wasteland. James Rowan has offered a huge reward for his capture – alive, because he wants the package back. Rachel and Logan convince Oliver that he has to go with them when they escape.
- The Claiming for the older girls is the next day and Logan is glad Rachel isn’t in it because all of the single men in the city are idiots. He takes her to Sylph’s house for one last visit. Sylph is preparing for her Claiming the next day.
- The Commander comes in and abducts Rachel while the very repressed townsfolk do literally nothing about it. He puts her in a wagon with a person-shaped blanket lump and accuses her of keeping secrets, stabbing the lump that turns out to be Oliver, who was supposed to be gone already but got caught. The Commander kills Oliver and tells Rachel he’s putting her in the Claiming the next day. If/when Logan Claims her, she must turn him down and be declared a ward of the state, then he will let her go out to find the package. If she doesn’t, he’ll kill Logan. He’s a rat bastard so she knows he’s not bluffing.
- He leaves her covered in Oliver’s blood and a guard puts her in fresh clothing while Rachel is busy going into mental shock. This part was very creepy for reasons I can’t articulate.
- In town, Logan bargains an identiti-chip blocker (that he invented) for information on the Commander: he wears a pendant which he never removes, and he sent every tracker except for his best, Melkin, out on a mission that day. A kid with a message tells Logan Sylph’s dad is looking for him.
- Logan finds Rachel at her friend’s house huddled on the floor in total shock. He’s afraid the Commander has raped her and tries to put her in a wagon so she doesn’t have to walk, but this freaks her out more and she runs away. He catches her but some men with swords surround them. Rachel goes into fight mode and Logan has to prevent her from killing the men with her concealed knives..
- Logan gets her home and finds a note from the Commander about the Claiming. There’s also a very low cut dress that doesn’t cover her breasts, and in a town where pants are off-limits to women, this is probably as good as naked. Logan gives her the new tracking bracelet and a necklace that belonged to his mother. Rachel tells him about the Commander’s demands so he won’t Claim her the next day and they make a plan to run away right after the ceremony.
- They hide their bags and Logan mentally criticizes every single man in the village. One of them tries to Claim Rachel, Logan accepts his offer, which the Commander wasn’t expecting. He threatens Rachel and then slaps her and then it’s chaos. Logan attacks the Commander and realizing she’s too valuable for him to let her die, threatens to kill herself if the Commander doesn’t let Logan go. He throws Logan in jail instead and tells Rachel that Tracker Melkin will go into the Wasteland with her.
The story breaks up into two parts: the Rachel/Melkin part and the Logan in jail part.
- Melkin isn’t very friendly but Rachel is tough. Melkin slams his staff into the ground and the Cursed One attacks soon after they leave the city. Melkin saves Rachel twice so we’re not sure if he’s a total jerk or not. Turns out the Commander has Melkin’s wife locked up in the dungeon. She’s very pregnant and he won’t release her until Melkin delivers the package.
- They find one of Jared’s spots and one of Rachel’s mother’s ribbons is tied to a tree, so they know he’s been there. They begin to think they’re being followed. At the first safe house, they see guards following them. Melkin plans to kill them but before he can, a Rowansmark tracker kills them. He’s been following them to find where the package is. Melkin and Rachel are kind of getting along because Melkin loves his wife so he must not be all bad, but Rachel is wary because that means he’d do anything to save her from jail.
- Rachel and Melkin keep moving and find the second safe house burned to the ground. They also find two teenagers from one of the Tree Villages; they lead her to Jared’s grave. Willow and Quinn are siblings and Jared saved them at the cost of his own life. He gave Quinn the package for when Rachel came after him. Jared didn’t want her to use this, but give it to Logan to be destroyed.
- Rachel opens it; it’s a metal wand with buttons. She demands an explanation (against Melkin’s wishes). It produces frequencies the Cursed One can hear and that controls his movements.
- Melkin wants to turn the wand in to save his wife Eloise. Rachel doesn’t want to hand the Commander more power even if it means Logan and Eloise die. Melkin is in denial about how much a crapweasel the Commander is and tries to take the device.
- Rachel thinks he’s going to kill her and in their fight, she kills him instead. He says he was just going to take it and leave her, setting off a storm of guilt for Rachel. Melkin dies and Rachel can’t be sure if he was really trying to kill her or not. She buries him and Quinn and Willow decide to travel with her.
- Logan is in jail and Melkin’s pregnant wife Eloise is across from him. The Commander beats Logan and makes snarky comments about his father being disloyal. We don’t know why but I have theories. Logan uses his jail chains to hit the Commander, who in his anger reveals that he instructed Melkin to kill Rachel once they had the package if she didn’t cooperate. He has Logan branded with the symbol of his Brute Squad.
- Logan manages to grab his cloak, but gets very sick. A girl comes to the jail and brings him water, whispers that “they” are going to help him – Thom and Drake. Eloise begs him to stop Melkin from becoming a killer, eventually tells him what signal Melkin was supposed to give to the Commander when he returned.
- Logan’s been in jail for a week. He uses the explosives cleverly disguised as cloak buttons and the detonator hidden in his boot sole and casually explodes the wall to escape. He grabs his secondary backup bag and escapes into the Wasteland like the thorough-planning Macgyver he is. He travels quickly, seeing the dead guards at the first safe house and ignoring his various injuries.
- He runs into a Rowansmark battalion and kills their watchman, then has to evade them through the forest for days. He finds Rachel in the forest with Quinn and is about to climb out of the trees to meet her when the Rowansmark tracker attacks. Logan tackles him and as they’re grappling, Rachel shoots the tracker between the eyes with an arrow. She knew the tracker was there the whole time because she is a badass. Also there’s a good hug right here.
how did it end?
- The tracker’s body starts beeping and explodes, blowing their cover. They’re arguing about escape when Rachel slams Melkin’s staff into the ground and lo, the Cursed One is there. Apparently the staff has some kind of sonic pulse generator on the end. They don’t have time to escape and the Rowansmark battalion surrounds them. Logan thinks they’re about to die but Rachel digs out the wand and tells him to figure it out. He tells her he loves her and gets to work.
- He pushes the wrong button and the Cursed One sets people and woods on fire. This is not ideal. They’re about to die when he pushes the last button and the Cursed One goes back underground.
- Quinn wants to help them and Willow wants to see them overthrow their leader (out of curiosity more than nobility – she’s blunt but I like her!). Rachel is dealing with some “I just stabbed a guy to death” issues and does not want to talk about being in love with Logan because now she’s broken. After seeing the brand on Logan’s neck, she decides to solve all her problems by giving the Commander the horrific, legendary death he deserves. I’m having trouble faulting her for that one.
- Rachel tells Logan that her father is dead and about how she had to kill Melkin. She’s upset because she made the wrong call and because now she’s a murderer whom Logan could never love. He washes the blood off her hands (literally, in the river) and kisses her and yay.
- Quinn admits that he killed a man once too and that’s why he and Willow are outcasts. He doesn’t want to bring his sister into a war to satisfy her curiosity so they agree to wait in the woods for a while to see how things turn out.
- Logan and Rachel strategize and decide to make a fake wand to give to the Commander. They approach the city to meet him and use the staff to summon the Cursed One. The Commander says he’s going to kill Logan, that he’s been waiting to kill him since the day he was born. We still don’t know why. The fake wand doesn’t work on the Cursed One and he’s about to get burned, so the Commander rips out his necklace – some kind of lizard foot that stops the Cursed One from killing him.
- Hidden with the real wand, Rachel tries to make it kill the Commander but it won’t hurt him because of the necklace. They think it must be from the Cursed One’s mate or children and he’s confused by the smell. Logan decides to try and steal it then stab the Commander with his sword, but before he can, the Cursed One goes for the city. Neither the Commander nor Rachel can drive him away and he erupts inside the Wall and sets everything on fire.
- Logan and Rachel get inside to try and rescue people. Drake’s daughter Nola, the prisoner visitor, helps Logan collect acid and glycerin and jars so he can explode the wall and everyone can escape the burning city. They start throwing the jars of explosives at the Cursed One.
- Rachel runs at it with her knives and it spits fire at her. Logan thinks she’s dead, but like the badass she is, she slides under the column of fire and tries to hack at its soft belly. She wounds it but it goes back underground before they can kill it.
- The Commander is missing. The citizens are divided between hating and loving Rachel/Logan. The haters leave for another city-state. Survivors who like them stay and they try to regroup. They decide to find the Commander and stop him, plus warn the other city-states about Rowansmark’s dangerous technology and destroy it.
Protector: the male family member or husband legally responsible for a woman
Claiming: the ceremony where bachelors go get their wives
The Cursed One: firebreathing monster that lives underground and destroys everything
Baalboden: the city where Rachel and Logan live, controlled by Commander Jason Chase