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Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Nothing Within by Andy Giesler (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order The Nothing Within over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Andy has been a library page, dairy science programmer, teacher, technical writer, healthcare software developer, and official Corporate Philosopher. He grew up in a town in Ohio Amish country. He's a husband, father, and nonprofit web consultant living in Madison, Wisconsin.

FORMAT/INFO: The Nothing Within is 556 pages long and is a standalone dystopian novel. The author self-published it in June 2019. The cover art and design are by Jeff Smith Graphics.

OVERVIEW: I’m not partial to post-apocalyptic stories but Giesler’s fresh and unusual take on the subject won me over. The Nothing Within is the first rural dystopia I’ve ever read.

An apocalyptic event known as The Reckoning has wiped out civilization in North America leaving only a few rural communities cut off from the outside world. Their inhabitants live simple lives filled with menial tasks and rarely travel outside their villages. It’s too dangerous as chimeras, violent hybrid creatures, roam the wilds. The reasons for travel include buying food and breeding - interbreeding in a small village would lead to troubles and disabled children.

Root is a blind young woman who struggles to fit in, but she’s too curious and too straightforward for her own good. When she hears a voice in her head, the Nothing within her stirs and gives her serious enhancements (increased speed and strength, and more, but I won’t spoil it to you). The Nothing Within is… well, I can’t tell you what it is as the author reveals it near the end of the book.

The Nothing Within blends fantasy with science-fiction. The story develops in two timelines - present and the past one. The main arc focuses on Root trying to survive and understand what’s happening to her and who she really is. The other one presents events that lead to the Reckoning. Clues and important data are scattered throughout both narratives. While I appreciate it intellectually I also admit that the past storyline lacked a strong lead with a distinct voice Root has. 

Root is an excellent, if unreliable, storyteller. She often admits that her memory isn’t what it used to be, and it plays tricks on her. We’ll never know if and to what extent the time has warped her recollection of the events. She narrates the story of her life to a gathering of listeners. 

Giesler has created fascinating rustic, spartan, and ordered world shaped by Amish principles, something I rarely see in fiction. I liked the character development as well. Both Root and Ruth Troyer start as weak and naïve, but develop inner strength and become the leaders of their communities. As cliche as it may sound, the skillful use of POV makes it a pleasure to read. The uniqueness of the setting coupled with strong characterization makes The Nothing Within intriguing and satisfying. 

Giesler takes time to develop the world and characters, though, so the pacing in the first half of the book feels off. Things get together well, but you’ll need the patience to get through parts of the text. 

While I enjoyed the blend of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and mystery I also think that sometimes Giesler tried too hard to include social commentary about the dangers of bioengineering and science. I like simplicity but I also choose to believe science can do more good than bad in the longer run. 

Everything depends on who and how uses it and unfortunately those who have access to powerful tools aren’t always the people for the task.


keikii Eats Books said...

I feel a lot like you. I'm also not too keen on post-apocalyptic stories, but Giesler's The Nothing Within changed my mind. I enjoyed reading it so much!

Łukasz said...

Yeah, it's an interesting take on dystopian fantasy/sci-fi genre.


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