Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies.
There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.
In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…
Firstlife has an unusual premise: There are two realms of the afterlife, and each side is trying to recruit living humans to pledge their afterlife to one side or the other. There is no talk of God, just these two realms actively fighting with each other in an unending war for dominance. This has ramifications for how people live on Earth. If you are aligned with one side, people signed up with the other side are instantly your enemy. I found this to be an analogy for how people fight over religious differences in real life. Plus, the book was fast-paced and had a lot of great relationships between the characters.
What I Liked:Audio Book Production:
I listened to this novel as an audio book and the production created a wonderfully realized world. There is a clear delineation between what happens on Earth versus what is going on in the other realms. This is achieved by using only female voices for Earth, and only male voices for the action in Troika and Myriad.
The book begins with a lighthearted exchange from the afterlife between Laborers (souls sent back to earth to recruit people to commit to either Myriad or Troika), and their supervisors. This comes in the form of emails. The male actor, Zachary Webber, does a fine job of using accents to distinguish between four different people.
When we get to what's happening on Earth, the female voice actor, Emma Galvin, takes over all the voices. She also does a great job of voicing the many characters, both male and female, often using different accents to differentiate between characters.
I liked that each realm, Myriad and Troika, had very distinct philosophies. Myriad's motto is, "Victors are adored, losers are abhorred." They have a win at all costs way of working. They make deals with humans to win their souls. This could mean anything from granting a person wealth and power on Earth, to guaranteeing what job they will have in the next life.
While some may find Myriad's methods a sign of strength, others prefer Troika's ways. Troika has strict rules of conduct, but they are the same for everyone. No one gets special treatment in Troika. Most people who go to Troika have a sense of social justice and a want an afterlife where everyone is treated equally.
I loved that these two schools of thought literally fight each other throughout the book. Cases can be made for each way of thinking. But, ultimately the character named Ten will have to decide.
Ten begins the book as a loner in a horrible lockdown facility for out of control teens (she is put there by her parents for not signing up with Myriad). But over the course of the book, she goes from cynical teenager to a person who has several close friendships with other inmates. She comes to trust and rely on others, and see herself in the bigger picture of the world. She begins to think of others, and becomes more selfless.
What I was mixed about:
While I did enjoy the performances of the two voice actors in the audio book, at times the female performer, Emma Galvin, seemed to drop a character's accent. Since this was the only way to distinguish between two people speaking, this was confusing to me.
What I Didn't Like:Changing rules:
I found some of the book to be frustrating, as the rules in the novel's universe seemed to shift to meet the needs of the situation. The tagline of the book is, "One choice. Two realms. No second Chance." There is huge pressure on Ten to make a decision on which realm to choose before she dies. Yet people seem to die, and then come back to life, many, many times. I thought a person only had one first life? But some characters are revived multiple times. It kind of felt like that Tom Cruise movie, Edge Of Tomorrow ("Live, Die, Repeat).
It made it difficult to feel the urgency of the situation if the characters could be revived again and again.
This book was severely gruesome (Think of the movie Saw). Of course, this was a book about two warring factions, but the truly awful actions took place between humans at a lockdown facility for teens. I hate thinking of anyone, let alone young people, being treated in such a sadistic manner. It was very upsetting.
Release Date: February 23rd, 2016
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: Public Library
Format: Audio Book
Recommendation: This is an entertaining, fast-paced book that uses fantasy to explore issues of competing philosophies and religion. Although gruesome at times, this book is a page-turner.