Book Review: Year Zero, by Jeff Long

It’s time for another book review! How excited are you? Yeah, me too. Today I’ll be reviewing Year Zero, by Jeff Long. You may also recognize Jeff as the author of The Descent, one of the most influential books on my budding writing career. Someday I will meet Mr. Long and we will talk…after I gush some. Right. I’m supposed to be reviewing a book. Here goes.

Year ZeroFrom the publisher:

An archaeological manhunt is raging in the holy land — a hunt for the historical Jesus. For Nathan Lee Swift, a young American field researcher and expectant father, the line between noble discovery and the plunder of ruins is sacred — until the night he crosses it. At a Roman landfill beneath the crucifixion grounds known as Golgotha, Nathan Lee yields to his professor’s greed and turns common grave robber. His world — his unborn daughter — seems lost to him.

Hundreds of miles away, on the remote Greek island of Corfu, a wealthy collector pries open his latest black-market purchase — a fourteen-inch holy relic containing a vial of blood dating back to the first century — and unleashes a two-thousand-year-old plague. As the pandemic explodes from the Mediterranean basin and threatens to devour humankind, Nathan Lee gets a chance at redemption. He embarks on an Odyssean journey back to the United States to find his family.

Skirting the edges of the world, Nathan Lee’s path finally leads him to New Mexico, where the greatest minds of science have converged at Los Alamos to find a vaccine. There Nathan Lee meets Miranda Abbot, a nineteen-year-old prodigy. As the cure continues to elude them, Miranda launches a desperate final strategy: the use of human lab rats cloned from the year zero. Nathan Lee, the thief of bones, comes face-to-face with men made from the very relics he looted, one of whom claims to be Jesus Christ, but may also be Patient Zero.

Combining the scientific precision of The Andromeda Strain with the intensity of classic adventure epics, Jeff Long takes readers on a riveting voyage through the rubble of earthquake-torn Jerusalem, the serenity of the high Himalayas, and the eerie sanctuary of Los Alamos. With Long’s characteristic originality, Year Zero races against the apocalyptic clock, creating a maze of twists, astonishing atmosphere, and the clash of science and faith.

If you’ve read The Descent, you’ll probably like Year Zero as well. Mr. Long unleashes an ancient strain of virus on the modern world. Societies collapse, governments scramble, and people die. Whole countries perish–Greece, France, China. Eventually the US is left to search for a cure before the entire globe is infected. That was one of my pet peeves about this book. I thought some of the other countries would have tried a little harder to set up labs and brain trusts to combat the virus. I would have liked to have seen more of a shared global knowledge, instead of leaving most everything up to the US.

Anyway, the star of this story is Nathan Lee Swift. He’s a man pushed to the shady side of archaeology by his brother-in-law, becoming nothing more than a grave robber and looter in order to support is new baby. With Nathan Lee, Mr. Long does a wonderful job creating a flawed, yet very human, character. I enjoyed following Nathan Lee across the globe as he desperately tried to get back to the US and his family only to run into roadblock after roadblock. He was an easy character to root for from the very beginning.

Our other main character is Miranda Abbott, the genius daughter of Dr. Paul Abbott. We first meet her as a rebellious teen who lives to thwart her father who has done nothing but feed her mind with the best tutors and mentors money can buy. Later she becomes an important figure in America’s attempt at finding a cure, and Nathan Lee’s life. Her character grew on me. Often times her youthful energy kept the moral high ground, the light shining in dark times. Which is funny because she’s the one who comes up with cloning dead folks from two thousand years ago. Basically, she’s a scientist with a heart…which gets her into trouble along the way.

This book takes on the always touchy subject of religion too. At first, the common people worship the plague victims thinking them to be angels. When the cloning begins, humanity can’t help but wonder if one of them is the actual Jesus from the Bible. If you read any of the reviews for this book, you’ll see plenty of people complain about the cloning and religious aspects of this book. I didn’t have a problem with either. Mr. Long goes out of his way to show both the scientific and the religious aspects of everything in Year Zero. Not only that, but he does it in respectful and intelligent ways. You can tell he did tons of research.

For me, this book constantly got better. The beginning took a bit to get going, but that’s to be expected with so many pieces needing attention and a world on the brink of destruction. Trust Mr. Long to take you where you need to go…until the end. Unfortunately, I felt the ending fizzled out instead of exploding in awesomeness. While there were satisfactory conclusions to most of the character and story arcs, the ending just sort of happened. It didn’t feel satisfying.

If you’re a fan of Jeff Long, quality thrillers, or great writing, this book will appeal to you. Be forewarned, Mr. Long has a tendency to take his readers on grand adventures. Year Zero is no different. Be sure to check it out. You won’t be sorry.

What I liked:

  • Superb characters. Nathan Lee was an easy character to root for. I found myself wanting to see how his tale unfolded early on.
  • The science behind the virus added layers to the story. It was easy to see Mr. Long took his time researching.
  • The religious aspect was appealing in context to the story. I feel like Mr. Long took great care in incorporating a religious storyline, which is no small feat considering how fanatical people can be. I especially like how when the chips were down, even the most scientific minds turned to religion. Very believable.
  • How big this story felt. Readers are taken to places like Nepal, China, and Russia. Did I believe the entire world was dying off? Yes. This is a grand story that affects billions of people. Apocalypse, anyone?
  • The antagonists were just as believable as the protagonists. Brilliant minds are often egotistical and hardened. Readers believe these people would do anything to be the first to discover a cure, even murder and betrayal.
  • I loved how this book challenges our idea of what it means to be human. I often found myself wondering what I would do in the face of tough choices like these characters. Do the ends justify the means in terms of searching for a cure? Would I put the needs of the human race before those of my family?
  • The pace kept me turning pages long after I knew I should have been sleeping.

What I didn’t like:

  • It takes a bit for all the pieces to come into play. The beginning is a touch slow but not enough to make you want to stop reading.
  • The ending fizzles out. While I didn’t find it unsatisfactory, I would have liked it to flow more smoothly. After a certain key scene, the next thirty pages or so felt lacking.
  • Nathan Lee reminded me a little too much of Ike from The Descent.
  • I would have like to see more of a global effort in finding a cure.

Overall: I’d give Year Zero four out of five stars. Top notch characters and plot lines make it an easy read. If religion is a touchy subject, you may want to steer clear. Although I believe Mr. Long does a fantastic job taking religious concepts and creating compelling fiction, others may take issue. With that being said, Year Zero is definitely worth your time and money.

You can find out more about Jeff Long by following this link.


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