When the Detonations occurred, many people were lucky enough to be touring the Domes, which were created as a prototype to protect the population from nuclear war. But only a small amount of the population survived the Detonations in the Dome. Everyone else was left outside to fend for themselves. While most people died, something strange happened to the ones who actually survived the blast- they fused to things around them. Pressia's hand fused to the doll she was holding. Some people fused to other people, and many mothers fused to their own children. People fused to animals, creating strange mutations, some more human than others, but all called Beasts by the people outside the Dome. Other people fused to trees, building rubble, and even the earth, becoming Dusts, the dangerous mutations that stalk people as they walk across the ground. Survivors of the Detonations wear their scars with pride, but for Pressia, her doll's head hand has always been a reminder of everything she lost.
Now Pressia is trying to escape the OSR, a radical group that hunts the weak and gathers the strong at age 16 to become soldiers to fill their ranks. She has managed to escape them so far, but the appearance of a Pure, a boy from inside the Dome, has her risking her life to save both of them. Partridge escaped the monotonous life in the Dome on the wisp of a hope his mother was still alive after growing up and being told she died in the Detonations. His father, leader of the Dome, was about to put him under to try recoding (genetic alterations done to improve people in the Dome), but Partridge escaped before the surgery can be done. When he comes across Pressia, he is willing to risk everything, even his life, to find his mother. Pressia takes him to Bradwell to help him find his mother.
Bradwell is the son of two people who knew the real intentions of the Domes. He holds meetings and tries to educate the wretches outside the Domes about the "cleansing" the elite in the Dome accomplished with the Detonations, but his efforts don't get him very far. When Pressia comes to him with a Pure, he isn't interested in risking his life for some unscarred kid who knows nothing about true suffering. What he doesn't expect is to care about Pressia more than anyone can afford to care about another person in such a cruel, harsh world. When Pressia is snatched by OSR soldiers, Bradwell agrees to help Partridge find his mother only if they find Pressia first. Together they set off through a new world full of mutations and abominations in order to find people who may already be lost. But the one thing they have not lost is hope that Pressia and Partridge's mother are not lost. Hope is all they have left.
Wow! Julianna Baggott really let the creative juices flow with this one! There are so many dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories out there these days that it is hard for books to not feel somewhat derivative of what came before them, but Baggott wrote a truly original, unique, innovative story that kept my interest from the first page to the last. It felt like some kind of macabre, nuclear, Island of Dr. Moreau with all the creepy combinations that happened when people fused after the Detonations! I admit I was a little confused by everything at the very beginning of the story, but as the explanations quickly unfolded, I couldn't tear myself away from the story. And the deep corruption that ran through the society is simply fascinating. But the best part of the story was the three main characters: Pressia, Partridge, and Bradwell. There is so much going on with these three kids from totally different backgrounds, but somehow they are all connected. They were dynamic characters who you can't help but find yourself invested in. I loved how this story unfolded and revealed more and more depth with each passing page without feeling as though there were huge information dumps or too much held back- it was the perfect blend of contextual understanding and suspense.
I would probably give this story to any mature young adult through adult who is interested in science fiction or post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories. I wouldn't give this to an immature or weak reader, not because the content is overly sexual or violent (because it isn't), but because the story is very complex and intricate. It would most likely lose a person who wasn't a strong reader with enough stamina to get to the heart of the story and work everything out. And it would be a shame to ruin this book for them by giving it to them before they are ready for it because this really is an amazing story! I have no idea where the series plans to go with the next book, but if this book is any indicator, it is going to be amazing. Honestly, that unpredictable nature of the story is what makes it so unique! And I have this sick, twisted, morbid fascination with seeing what kinds of strange mutations we will run into next! This first book has the potential to be the beginning of a legendary series.