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The No Shelter trilogy by T.S. Welti

No Shelter

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic

After storms and rising sea levels ravage the United States, the country is divided, and people must either live in strictly regimented societies or strike out on their own in the wilderness, where every day is a fight for survival. Seventeen-year-old Nada and her mother have joined a group of refugees taking shelter in a high school. The community is far from perfect, and Nada dreams of breaking free from the brutal rein of the Guardians, who are ostensibly there to protect the refugees, but who operate under a Mob-like mentality. Tragedy strikes, and Nada finds herself on the run with Isaac, with whom she forges a bond. Though their lives are far from idyllic, Nada and Isaac each ensure the other’s survival in the dangerous, grueling conditions in the outside world. Their tight bond is threatened when they add others to their group, particularly a handsome guy named Daedric, who was originally a resident of the east. His very presence in the western part of the country puts their party at risk, as the Guardians have struck an uneasy truce with their neighbors to the east, and anyone who crosses into western territory is subject to execution.

What’s truly striking about the No Shelter books is how, at their core, they are stories about survival at all costs. Though each novella in the series offers a different and intriguing plot, the overarching theme of the book is the characters’ will to survive. In some of the characters, the dire circumstances inspire feats of bravery and selflessness while, with others, survival is an every-man-for-himself proposition. There’s nothing gratuitous in these novellas, but they don’t shy away from convincing depictions of the harshness of the world in which Nada and her fellow survivors live. Rather than having her characters jump through plot hoop after plot hoop, Welti writes compellingly about the extraordinary effort required to simply make it from one day to the next. The stakes the characters face feel real and give the book a constant tension. When Nada and the refugees aren’t dodging the Guardians–who are frightening villains–they’re locked in battle against the elements, against starvation and, sometimes, against one another.

On the downside:

There wasn’t anything about the books that I disliked. I was pretty much on the edge of my seat as I read each of them. However, there are a couple of things that I can see being a point of contention for some readers:

The length – Each of the books in the trilogy is a novella, which may not appeal to those who aren’t fond of short fiction. The scope is narrower, but I didn’t find this to be to their detriment. I thought the plotting in each book was tight, and I thought the characters were very well developed. I’d encourage anyone wavering because of the length to give them a shot. In my opinion, one of the best new trends in electronic publishing is that it makes short-form fiction a feasible option once again, and it can be a nice change to get a great story with well-done characters in a more compact, quicker to consume form.

The ending – It’s absolutely shattering, the kind of ending that’s pretty much guaranteed to be polarizing.

On the upside:

Isaac – His character was one of the most complicated and nuanced I’ve read in some time. For most of the series, I couldn’t quite make out what to think of him because he is such a mixture of good and bad. Sometimes I rooted for him and others I despised him. He’s a character who operates according to his own moral code, and it doesn’t necessarily jibe with that of the other characters–or the reader, for that matter. There are some big moments in the book in which the reader is given a sudden, jarring insight into what makes Isaac tick, and I found each one shocking and chilling.

Mary – She’s another character guaranteed to provoke strong reactions. Utterly ruthless, she still has her moments of grace. But there’s no question where her loyalties lie, and that her actions are motivated by the one thing in which she believes.

Nada – At her core, Nada is the type of character who wants to do the right thing, but she’s flawed and it causes her to sometimes make some very bad decisions. Her flaws made her seem so human and so real that I was invested in what would happen to her. At times, I found myself cringing, wanting to shake her and tell her she was getting it wrong. A book always gets points with me when its characters seem so real I wouldn’t be surprised to run into them in the outside world, which is exactly how I felt about Nada.

The setting – The story is set in more than one location, and each one had something to contribute to the overall feel of the world. The one I found most compelling, though, was the wilderness. In prose that’s stark but also often beautiful, Welti provides a convincing picture of what scrabbling for survival in a post-apocalyptic wilderness might be like. There’s no softening of the edges here, no convenient breaks handed to the characters. The stakes are very high.

The humanity of the story – At its core, this series is about the push-pull of human relationships, how emotions can shift from one extreme to another. I could identify with the struggles of each of the characters, with their desires and hurts, with the forces that moved them to fight to survive against all the odds stacked against them. It also provides a complex look at the nature of love, how it offers the possibility of both destruction and redemption.

The No Shelter trilogy is an emotional ride, one that stuck with me for weeks after I finished reading it. I thought the books showed incredible insight into the nature of humanity, at how we have the power to both devastate and heal with the smallest of gestures.

Check back on Thursday, when I’ll feature an interview with the author of the No Shelter trilogy, T.S. Welti.

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