Anna by Sammy H. K. Smith
DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review. My thanks to Rebellion Publishing for giving me this opportunity.
This review may contain spoilers.
Okay, first things first: the content warnings. This book covers some pretty violent topics, including sexual violence, rape, enslavement, and torture, and a lot of that happens in the first third of the story. Suffice to say, this book may not be for everyone.
I have to admit, this was not an easy book to get to grips with, mainly because of those elements mentioned above. That said, there’s something about the way the story is presented that makes it compelling; we want to know how the titular character copes with the hardships she’s forced to endure at the start of the story, or if she can get away from the man who’s making her life a misery. Along the way, we’re given glimpses into a world where the normal rules of civilised behaviour seem to have been well and truly abandoned, and left with a sense that this is how the world is now. If you need a good example of a dystopian future, you could do worse than the first twelve chapters of this book.
Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, the story starts with Anna’s capture, and explores the way she is broken down by her captor through violence, humiliation, and emotional abuse. We’re told the entire story from Anna’s point of view, and have to watch helplessly from the sidelines as her will to fight is gradually eroded by the brutal treatment of a man who claims he just wants to love and care for her.
Through Anna’s eyes, we get to see the lives of other people, and witness how they’ve adapted to the collapse of society around them, how they’ve learned to do whatever is necessary to survive in a world seemingly without rules. And we find ourselves being worn down just as much as Anna by the apparent lack of a way out of this hellish parody of civilisation. The final nail in the coffin for Anna is the moment she realises she’s pregnant with her abuser’s child.
Fortunately, by the end of the first part of the narrative things take a turn for the better. Escaping her captivity, Anna becomes Kate and finds her way to a more humane settlement. This is a town where people work together, where the houses have power, and heat, and in some cases running water. Welcomed into the town by the inhabitants, a heavily pregnant Kate slowly overcomes her fear and distrust and gradually becomes a productive member of society once again, taking charge of the town’s library, and helping with the implementation of a school for the local kids. And just as she’s beginning to take the safety and comfort for granted, the dark-eyed abuser from the first part of the novel comes back into her life.
As I’ve already mentioned, despite the dark tone and gut-wrenchingly brutal narrative, there’s something seriously compelling about this book. The way we’re so intimately inside Anna/Kate’s head throughout the story makes it our story as well. We suffer as she suffers, and view everyone she meets with the same trepidation and paranoia. But we also get to watch as she rebuilds her confidence, and can’t help but cheer her on as she digs deep inside herself for the strength she needs to overcome the forces ranged against her. We want Anna/Kate to succeed, because if she fails, then we’ve failed as well. And that’s where this book works so well.
It’s one hell of a ride, but it’s a ride worth taking. A solid four and a half stars for this one, and a strong hope that there’s a sequel so I can find out if Simon gets what’s coming to him, and if Rich ever gets his picnic.