The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian
Publication Date: February 21, 2013
Publisher: Viking Adult
Weaving philosophy and science together into a riveting, dystopian story of love and adventure, The Office of Mercy illuminates an all-too-real future imagined by a phenomenal new voice in fiction.
Twenty-four-year-old Natasha Wiley lives in America-Five—a high-tech, underground, utopian settlement where hunger and money do not exist, everyone has a job, and all basic needs are met. But when her mentor and colleague, Jeffrey, selects her to join a special team to venture Outside for the first time, Natasha’s allegiances to home, society, and above all to Jeffrey are tested. She is forced to make a choice that may put the people she loves most in grave danger and change the world as she knows it.
The Office of Mercy is speculative fiction at its best with a deeply imagined, lush world, high-stakes adventure, and romance that will thrill fans of Suzanne Collins, Margaret Atwood, Justin Cronin, and Kazuo Ishiguro.
With an Ethical Code like that where the main goal is to keep suffering to a minimum, it’s hard not to assume you’re jumping into a utopian fiction, right? However, Ariel Djanikian alters just the right amount of elements in her story to shift this utopian focus into a dystopian nightmare. Absolutely fascinating world building that’s wrapped around a truly plausible plot.
In The Office of Mercy, we meet Natasha that has lived her 24 years in America-Five, which is a post-apocalyptic society that’s enclosed in an underground dome. This North American population is one of the few that survived the “Storm” which annihilated millions of people. She works for The Office of Mercy and the book commences with her post “sweeping” or annihilating an outside tribe that was on the brink of starvation. Natasha’s assignment, along with a team of four others, is to go outside on a Recovery Mission to fix the sensors, document the sweep site and check for survivors.
In Natasha’s world, they live by an Ethical Code that dictates a few extremes. First being, no new life should ever be brought into existence without the settlement first proving that it has triple the energy, space and resources needed to sustain new life. Second, people in her society are exposed to ‘bio-replacements’ that rearrange cells in order to force their bodies to go on for more than one generation… just think… they live a VERY long time. Her society is governed by the Alphas who position themselves above all, including the tribes that live outside of their dome and wield control over life and death. They rule from a very depersonalized perspective, where they determine who lives or dies.
When Natasha is exposed to the outside world for the first time and comes face to face with a tribe she’s ordered to ‘sweep’, she finds it difficult to execute her orders and that is just the beginning of her belief system crumbling. Despite years of conditioning, she’s unable to erect a “Wall” that removes any ability to empathize for others, and as her journey continues, she begins to question the governing power and the Ethical Code she’s supported her entire life.
First off, I need to applaud Djanikian for her superb writing skills. Her strength is clearly in her ability to build an intricate society with fascinating concepts that cause the reader to embark on a mind spin. There were so many layers to this story that included themes on life, love, power, and control, that I feel a second pass at this novel would still unveil so much more to consider.
The Office of Mercy is delicately complicated yet powerfully daunting. It’s not an easy read by any means. Where my preference is a more dialog driven novel surrounded by a compelling cast, Djanikian’s focus is presenting a carefully crafted world and supplementing that with layers of considerations to ponder.
As a debut author, I have to say I’m impressed with Ariel Djanikian’s entrance into Dystopian Fiction. She has the skill to present a frighteningly real possibility with the proper world building to support her case. Well done!
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