Monday, April 16, 2018

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter, 2018

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Maddie thought she and Logan would be friends forever. But when your dad is a Secret Service agent and your best friend is the president's son, sometimes life has other plans. Before she knows it, Maddie's dad is dragging her to a cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.

No phone.
No Internet.
And not a single word from Logan.

Maddie tells herself it's okay. After all, she's the most popular girl for twenty miles in any direction. (She’s also the only girl for twenty miles in any direction.) She has wood to cut and weapons to bedazzle. Her life is full.

Until Logan shows up six years later . . .

And Maddie wants to kill him.

But before that can happen, an assailant appears out of nowhere, knocking Maddie off a cliff and dragging Logan to some unknown fate. Maddie knows she could turn back- and get help. But the weather is turning and the terrain will only get more treacherous, the animals more deadly.

Maddie still really wants to kill Logan.

But she has to save him first.
(304 pages)

I know that Ally Carter is most famous for the Heist Society series, but I've never read them. Rather, I was excited to read this new book because I enjoyed her Embassy Row series. It's clear that Carter is devoted to writing books about high-flying characters with elite positions. I think it's like a form of wish-fulfillment for both the author and the readers, since most of us never really get to spend much quality time with spies or ambassadors or presidents (or their sons).

And really, Carter does it well. There's a reason she's so famous. I really enjoyed reading Not If I Saved You First: it's suspenseful, character-driven, tightly plotted, and engagingly written. The premise, of trying to escape a dangerous foreign agent alone in the middle of the already-dangerous Alaskan terrain, is a strong one and Carter knows how to milk it. I'm always a little hesitant about books set in the idealized wilderness of Alaska/Canada, just because it can become rather boring for those of us not into nature, but she strikes a good balance of focusing on the characters and the plot while using the Alaskan wilderness as a harrowing background.

I have to say that while I enjoyed Not If I Saved You First, I didn't like it as much as the Embassy Row books. A lot of that boils down, I think, to the protagonist: Maddie just isn't as interesting as Grace. Grace was brave but she was also broken, and scarred, and she had complex mental health issues. Maddie is just too perfect to be interesting: she's strong, mentally and physically, and she always has some sort of plan in place. At the points where she is scarred, I become less invested in her and more annoyed with her father/the author for putting her through such a horrible but frankly ridiculous upbringing. The reasoning for why they had to move to a desolate cabin in Alaska makes sense on the surface, but it feels contrived once you really start thinking about all the other options they could have pursued (and the fact that her father never actually told her the reason is just terrible!).

I did like Logan more, though, and I honestly wished we could have seen more of his inner turmoil or learned about his clashes with his family and life as the first son. The romantic tension was fun to read, if a little unrealistic, and I liked it on the whole.

Honestly, Not If I Save You First is fun and interesting. It's not fine literature, but it's entertaining. Fans of Ally Carter will surely love it, and I think that those of us who are less familiar with her writing will still enjoy the ride.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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