Book Reviews

Review — The Prey by Tom Isbell

The Prey by Tom Isbell (The Hatchery, #1). | My copy: Hardcover, 404 pages, HarperTeen (Harper Collins Publishers), 2015. | Source: Library. | View on Goodreads here.


A hot debut trilogy and a riveting story of survival, courage, and romance in a future where creating a master civilization is the only thing prized, no matter the method. After the Omega (the end of the end), 16 year old guys known as LTs discover their overseers are raising them not to be soldiers (lieutenants) as promised, but to be sold as bait because of their Less Than status and hunted for sport. They escape and join forces with a girls’ camp, the Sisters, who have been imprisoned and experimented on for the “good of the Republic,” by a government eager to use twins in their dark research. In their plight for freedom, these heroes must find the best in themselves to fight against the worst in their enemies.

The review:

The Prey is a grim dystopia set in the Republic of the True America (quite a mouthful, huh?), which follows our two protagonists: Book, a boy stuck in Liberty, a prison camp of sorts, and Hope, a girl with a twin named Faith, who winds up in Freedom, the camp for girls. The chapters alternate between Book and Hope, with Book’s chapters in first person past tense, and Hope’s chapters in third person present tense. Man, oh man, this was jarring and way more complicated than it needed to be. I didn’t even understand the reason for this weird stylistic choice. The book could have been told just fine if written in the same viewpoint and tense. At every new chapter I went, “Whoa! What’s going on here?” and had to readjust to the abrupt change. I really wasn’t a fan of this stylistic decision. I really wasn’t.

The world building was good, but a little far-fetched. A satisfactory chunk of history was explained, and the forests and mountains and landscape we got to see really did seem vivid and dangerous. Basically, war wiped out the country, and maybe the world, too (I forget), and the remaining political leaders decided to throw the Constitution out the window and create a loyalty pact. They shipped off “abnormal” people to the camps — people who were born with deformities due to the radiation they were exposed to in the womb, people with different (meaning darker) skin color, people with forbidden religious beliefs, etc. Basically, the world’s not a nice place. And the leaders are absolutely corrupt. Which is typical of any dystopia you read nowadays.

The plot basically revolves around the boys and girl being considered “prey”. Book decides he’s got to get the hell out of Liberty when a new boy, Cat, shows him the truth of what happens when the boys “graduate”: they’re hunted for sport, like wild animals. As horrible as this is, there’s only one scene of this hunt, and none of the characters we care about are involved in it. I would have liked this disgusting sport to have played a bigger role in the story (yeah, I actually wanted more horrific violence; go figure), maybe even had Book or some of the supporting characters get picked one day as the prey but manage to somehow escape. Sadly, this didn’t happen, but I wonder if it’ll happen later in the series… (Oh, yeah, the book’s ending. Totally the stupidest decision everyone could have made after all they’d been through. SO not realistic, but definitely admirable and brave — but still stupid! I saw it coming a mile away — after all, this trilogy is dubbed “The Hatchery”. Which means we’ve got to deal with these hatcheries sometime or another. *Frustrated sigh.*)

Going back to the book’s actual plot though, Book and some of his friends escape Liberty, while Hope and Faith are taken to Freedom and have experiments tested on them, some as forms of punishment and torture. By some random miracle, Book and Hope encounter each other, fall in love at first sight (gah, *makes a ward-off-instalove sign*)… and things get as predictable as putting a plate of Oreos and a cup of milk right in front of me: Book gets Hope and some of the other girls out. They all run away from the prisons in search of a safer territory. Shit happens. There’s a love triangle scare when Hope encounters Cat, whom she met prior to the book starting. The trek is boring when their “hunters” aren’t actually right there hunting them. You’d also think the girls and boys would be a bit more social with one another, seeing as they’re all teenagers with hormones… But I suppose it’s only Hope and Book who feel any sort of stirring. *Eye roll.* Speaking of the other girls and boys, though, the supporting characters all felt really bland. I remember some of their names, but none really made much of an impression. I did like Frank, though, he was nice, but it was rather predictable how his arc was going to play out, him being the gruff but caring older man who shelters our band of misfits. Still liked him a lot, though.

While the book was reasonably enjoyable for the most part, there were a lot of things I didn’t like about The Prey: It had a slower beginning and a bunch of slower sections throughout, it was very predictable, Book kept coming to save Hope when Hope seemed like a perfectly capable girl who could take care of herself, thank you very much, the large cast of supporting characters felt generic, the Brown Shirts were honestly not very scary, and a lot of the novel felt like other dystopias I’ve read. There were moments when I saw similarities to Eve by Anna Carey (read my review here) and The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, two books that are excellent for their genre and that are far more fleshed-out in terms of characters, specifically. I wasn’t a big fan of Book, and while I did like Hope, I never really got very attached to her. (Maybe because of the freaking third person present tense switch. Yes, I am still worked-up about that.) The main characters, as well as some important supporting ones, also all had serious gaps in their back stories. I didn’t like how little we actually got to learn about them. The book was solely their struggle in the camps and then on the run. There really wasn’t much in terms of character development.

I didn’t hate The Prey, but it wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be. The premise is very interesting, but it kind of fizzles. I’ve read so many dystopian novels that nowadays, if you’re going to go the typical route, you’ve got to have great characters, pacing, and writing — honestly, the back and forth between viewpoints and tenses drove me crazy. Will I continue with the series? Yes. I didn’t dislike The Prey so much that I won’t read the sequel. Maybe Tom Isbell will fill in all the holes left by this book. Maybe he’ll figure out his pacing and introduce some cool sci-fi elements — it’s called “The Hatchery” for a reason, huh? What could that reason actually be? And maybe he’ll decide to freaking stick with either first person or third person — but only one! — and either present tense or past tense. Personally, I’m voting for the whole next book to be written in first person present tense for both Book and Hope, but that’s just my preference. ANYWAY, The Prey is a decent enough story with a ton of bumps in it, but I did fly through it in a day, so that’s saying something. ♦

So tell me…

Have you read The Prey? If not, would you want to now? What’s a dystopia novel that you really disliked? One that you really loved? Comment below letting me know! And, as always, happy reading!

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2 thoughts on “Review — The Prey by Tom Isbell

  1. Aw I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this book! It’s really disappointing when the viewpoints are jarring and there are a ton of plot gaps. I think most people didn’t like this book so I might stay away from picking it up.

    Great review!


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