“People are allowing themselves to place time above life.” Parvin Blackwater should know, her Clock is counting down to her last day. She’s always known when the end would be, but she won’t let it define her. “I want…to be remembered.” This is the core of Nadine Brandes‘ novel A Time to Die, a refreshingly original entry into the crowded dystopian genre.
The world has been shattered by a global disaster and the nation is divided. A wall divides the East and the West. There are cities outside the wall, but desolate areas where people have regressed to primitive cultures. Parvin and her family are at the bottom of society inside the Wall. The elites who rule the society that rose from the ashes control the population through Clocks. Each person knows when the end will be as their Clock counts down (somewhat reminiscent of the film In Time). Eighteen-year-old Parvin is only months away from the end and her life hasn’t amounted to much. She is determined to change that in what time she has left.
We have a typical dystopian background, but instead of that overwhelming the story, Nadine Brandes focuses in on Parvin’s journey. It’s not an easy one, with some moments that will take you aback. There’s more depth in this character’s pilgrimage than in similar books. Not the simple “rise against the oppressors” story, Parvin must learn who she is and what she believes if she is to learn her place in the world. Told perfectly in the first person, we get to see her struggle with belief, with God, doubt and with what she encounters outside the Wall. Yes, like the female protagonists in those other books, Parvin is challenged beyond anything a normal person would face. Here, though, it isn’t all that obvious where this will lead. Maybe she will challenge the oppressors, indirectly or directly, but she’s certainly not taken the well-worn route of her contemporaries (in other novels, that is).
By approaching the dystopian tale from a different path, and themes of time, finding one’s place in the Story and of belief, Brandes has begun a captivating epic.