(Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Book links below are affiliate links.)
During college, I devoured the Hunger Games books in a few short days. This sparked what I now remember fondly as my “dystopia phase,” wherein I became absolutely enamored with the genre.
My first experience with dystopian fiction had actually been years prior when my AP English class read Brave New World, but I don’t think I knew there was a name for this kind of story until Hunger Games made it popular years later.
I only remember a handful of the books I read during this phase in my life since I tend to read quickly and forget easily. But maybe that’s a topic for another time.
Regardless, after a few years of reading my way through dystopias (not to mention writing my own as part of my senior thesis), I became tired of the genre and left it behind without really meaning to. Suddenly, I just… wasn’t really reading them anymore.
And then came A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden, the first book in The Outlands pentalogy.
The synopsis of A Touch of Death caught my eye, an interesting premise that also hinted at one of the best parts of any good YA dystopia — a love triangle.
Interest piqued, I decided it was about time I revisit the genre to see if it still held the same allure in a time when real-life frankly feels dystopian enough.
A Touch of Death takes place 1000 years in the future, under a totalitarian kingdom that uses fear and walls to keep its people in, safe from the horrors that lurk in the Outlands.
Our protagonists Nate and Catherine couldn’t be more different. He’s been in prison for dissenting, spared only through his connections to the Crown, while she is content in her life with his younger brother and her Complement (fiancé, more or less) Thom.
But, of course, she doesn’t stay comfortable and content, or else this book wouldn’t be half as gripping. One small incident turns their lives into chaos, and they have to flee the kingdom in search of safety and answers for the strange new symptoms Nate and Kitty have developed.
After some world-building documents and a brief prologue to set the scene, the story begins right at the inciting incident, which is part of what makes it such a compelling read. The majority of the world-building unfolds as events do, details sprinkled in throughout the building action that gives us a sense of where we are.
As a result of this quick start, I did find that I was a bit confused about how the characters ended up in the life-changing situation for the rest of the book’s events. However, that may well be a product of my poor memory when reading eBooks rather than the book itself.
The world of Cutta feels similar to Hunger Games in that the country is divided into rich and poorer nations, all under the firm control of the ruling power, which uses rules to “keep people safe” from the horrors that await them outside the civilized cities. There are also hints at the sort of lavish convenience when it comes to hair, skin, and beauty that often come in high society in a dystopian world.
The hinted presence of “mutants” and “rabids” hints at the reasons for retreating behind walls and rules, though these beings remain stories and ideas through much of the book. So, it remains to be seen what earns them their distinctions.
In addition to being pulled right into the events of the story and the suspense of the relationship between the characters, I enjoyed the fact that our two main protagonists had such contrasting views of their society in spite of fairly similar upbringings. This feels familiar in our own times, where, in the U.S. at least, it often feels like we are somehow living in separate realities in spite of being in the same world.
A Touch of Death is the type of book that keeps you turning the pages because you just have to learn what will happen to Nate and Catherine next. Like any good first book in a series, it ends with plenty of questions still unanswered, and I can’t wait to dig into the next book in the series!
While we receive plenty of hints and clues in this first installment, I can imagine that further into the series, there will be more of that slow uncovering of the insidiousness of dystopian rule that makes this genre so compelling.
Certainly, we begin to see Catherine piece some of this together towards the end of the book, as her entire life has shifted and brought into question everything she thought she knew.
In all, I’m glad I decided on this book as my reunion with dystopias. In spite of a few minor things that annoyed me (mainly, the fact that Nate says “darling” with alarming and unexplained frequency), it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
A Touch of Death has all the things I like best about the genre — suspense, young people learning to question what they’re told to believe, action, and, of course, a little bit of a love triangle.
After finishing this book in a rush to see what happens next, I’m glad to know it’s a series and I get to keep learning about the compelling characters — and the world — Crunden has created.
Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. ‘A Touch of Death’ was kindly sent to Coffee Time Reviews by Rebecca Crunden. If you’re an author and would like us to review your work, please visit our Submit a Book for Review page to find out how. Thank you for reading!