My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Initial thoughts: I really wanted to like this novel more than I did, but for the sparse worldbuilding and lack of connectivity as far as the characterization and events goes, this didn’t deliver. I’m hoping I can explain more in my full review.
Thriller/suspense/technological stories are usually right up my alley. I love the thrill of the chase, and watching the MCs of such tales grapple with their outer (and inner) adversaries to ultimately come to terms as the story winds down. “Don’t Turn Around” initially caught my attention not only for the premise and genre, but also for the cover. It makes you think this is going to be one of those novels that keep you on the edge of your seat for a good long while. For a while, it actually does, switching between the perspectives of its two primary characters: Noa and Peter, and a third POV from Amanda, Peter’s love interest for some time. The comparison to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” also intrigued me.
Sadly, I felt what was a promising start to “Don’t Turn Around” didn’t really give me any kind of satisfactory resolutions, and had too many inconsistencies to boot. It tries to be so many things – technological, medical thriller/suspense – but never clearly delivers on any of those notations, and this is the start to an ongoing series that leaves a LOT of plot threads hanging.
I can see the comparisons to “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” because Noa is a girl full of fire and resources to match. She’s self reliant and yet she’s a girl on the run. Those might be the only similarities that they have. Noa, when we begin the story, wakes up in an unfamiliar place with a large incision on her chest. She doesn’t remember how she got there, and the people who are in charge of her are suspect. An orphan and notably alone most of her life, she uses her instincts and ability to fight back and manages to escape. She eventually comes across the company of Peter, a boy with his own share of issues coming from a family with a lot of power and corrupt notations. Peter agrees to help her and the two are caught in a secret so deep that people are willing to kill in order to maintain that secret.
I feel like this book has a lot of bark, but not a lot of bite. Good premise, but lacking execution. Sure the thematic is intriguing considering it deals with medical experimentation and violation of human ethics, as well as bit references to hacker groups to set the tone, but there’s not a lot of hacking or answers going on in this book. I thought it only scratched the surface of those issues, and some of them felt tacked on awkwardly (even I know WoW’s notation, despite not playing it). It promises more than what it delivered, and doesn’t feel self contained. The reader connectivity to the characters is difficult to ascertain – more often than not, the characters run around quite a bit – some of which is engaging but could be more so if there were a set focal point. There’s very little establishment as to why initially and the actual plot pacing is sluggish. I did somewhat connect to Noa’s plight – because she’s trying to find out what happened to her and why she was experimented on by her respective assailants. Peter was much harder to feel for, but I certainly connected to his friend, who seemed like a good character. The rest of the collective cast were largely forgettable or cliched. I’m not exactly sure why Amanda’s narrative was introduced so late in the story, because it felt jarring to suddenly jump to a third POV after following the main two for quite some time.
I did not like what happened towards the end of the book to one of the characters, and the ending “cliffhanger” cemented a lot of unbelievability on what were already difficult circumstances to suspend disbelief toward. I wish I could say that this was a thrilling, engaging ride, but alas it feels like a cookie cutter suspense/thrill story that colors within the lines, but doesn’t shape much beyond its framework. It didn’t leave me with much to hang onto.