The books are interesting, engaging page turners. You want to find out how the characters get out of tricky and dangerous situations. You really care about what happens to them. If that’s enough for you in a novel, then stop reading, because I have a few issues with this one.
This review is mildly spoilery, FYI.
My first problem is that she wrote two books. This story is unjustifiably long. Willis could have cut a third out of the middle and it would have made the whole experience better. It feels well padded.
Old episodes of Doctor Who have a reputation for sending the characters running up and down corridors most of the time. They had no budget and four episodes to fill out, so they’d have the actors run down the same corridor over and over, heading to and from various dangers.
All Clear (and Blackout) does the same thing. The characters all experience the same worries over and over and over again. Each character brings up the same concerns about terrible things that might happen or have happened, with maybe the slightest twist each time. Often the character will raise that concern with another character and we’ll watch the second pserson worry about it all over again.
The characters also frequently make baffling decisions. They withhold information from their companions for the flimsiest of reasons. Particularly since those secrets usually have a profound bearing on their particular situation or that might prove valuable if shared. Another character chooses to make a truly mind-boggling decision halfway through the book that, while dramatic, in unnecessary.
However, my biggest issue with All Clear is that Willis doesn’t play straight with us. She presents new characters in different time zones without introduction. Based on my reading, she has deliberately chosen to make it unclear that we’ve already met these people. When I read a new character with a new name, I assume this is a new person. To find out that it’s actually the same person as the other chapter, just at a different point in their time line, .
Picture a movie made from this book. We’d know immediately that the woman in time zone A was the same woman in time zone B. The filmmaker would find a better way to tell the story than by deliberately withholding information. I expect that some people don’t mind this technique, but I felt taken advantage of and deliberately misled.
All Clear has a lot of potential. This would be an awesome early draft. It’s got the characters and plot to make a really good novel. But she needs to cut out a lot. She needs to work out the characters motivations and decisions. And she needs to make some choices about how to present the overlapping time lines in a more honest way.
It’s a shame because these really could have been truly epic and they just aren’t.