Year One by Nora Roberts is an interesting choice to follow my recent reads by Tosca Lee and J. D. Horn. It combines elements of each book into a satisfying post-pandemic adventure with a magical twist. It’s more about escaping the big city than Lee’s focus on the delivering the key to the cure. And the magic in this book is new, somewhat unknown, and more intensely “othered” than Horn’s fading New Orleans magic.

Still, the choice of these three books makes me wonder about my psyche. Who picks two “world destroyed by pandemic” books so close together? I either need good, heart-pounding escapist reads, or I have some deep fears about the direction of our current world choices. Maybe both.

In Year One, we follow a variety of characters leaving New York City. Lana and Max are a couple trying to get to his brother. Reporter Arlyss and her young colleague, Fred (who, for the record, is female) are trying to check on family as well. Rachel and Jonah, both medical professionals, are helping a young mother get three babies anywhere west of the city. All of them are hoping that escaping New York will save them from The Doom, this pandemic’s name. Along the way the character list grows, but these folks remain central for most of the story.

As a committed spoiler-free reviewer, this review is tough. I can’t tell you where they go or who they meet, because it gives too much away. I will say that Roberts builds plenty of tension and mostly defines her oppositional characters pretty clearly. As the story progresses, it becomes more of a “good versus evil” tale than one of strictly survival.

My conclusions

I ripped through this 12-hour audiobook pretty quickly. The characters and story grabbed me by the collar and yanked me forward. I personally think a pandemic like The Doom is more likely to happen than a nuclear holocaust. So these are my preferred apocalyptic and post-apoc reads. I always want to know how people survive and what skills are most valuable. At the same time, I wonder if I’d actually survive. Deep stuff for a theoretically escapist read.

Nora Roberts is a prolific author, with over 200 books to her credit. I remember reading her in other parts of my life, and never figured she’d veer into this genre. I give her credit for combining her typical human elements, conflict and romance, with such a survival of the fittest tale.

Unlike the Horn book, I found myself caring about all of the characters. Of course I want all the good ones to thrive, and the bad ones to be viciously cut down, getting what they deserve. Life isn’t like that, especially post-pandemic. I also thought some of Roberts’ twists were a little obvious, but on the whole I didn’t mind that.

There were times that Roberts was a bit heavy handed with her message about everyone being worthy. The magical people are mistrusted by some, and this creates significant conflict. But the approach is one I support, since it applies to our (as far as I know) non-magical world as well.

I recommend this if you like a pandemically inclined book with elements of magic included.