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The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

November 21, 2012

Hello, everyone.  Today Carrie Slager from The Mad Reviewer is doing a guest post on The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch.

(Cover picture courtesy of Midnight Bloom Reads.)

Sometimes the only way to survive is to keep moving.  America is a vast, desolate landscape left ravaged after a brutal war.  Two-thirds of the population are dead from a vicious strain of influenza.  People called the sickness the eleventh plague.

Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn was born after the war and only knows the life of a salvager.  His family was among the few who survived and look to roaming the country in search of material to trade.  But when Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma after an accident, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true.  There Stephen meets Jenny, who refuses to accept things as they are.  When they play a prank that goes horribly wrong, chaos erupts, and they find themselves in the midst of a battle that will change Settler’s Landing—and their lives—forever.

I know what you’re thinking: male protagonist + mysterious plague = zombies.  That’s what I thought too, but I was mercifully wrong.  It’s not that I don’t like zombies, but they are definitely overused.

The Eleventh Plague is different from a lot of the speculative YA you see on the shelves right now.  The biggest difference is that there’s a male protagonist, but there are more subtle differences as well.  Jeff Hirsch has actually paid attention to world politics and invented a plausible scenario for how the plague started and why civilization in America is basically non-existent in his novel.  He shows us how some people adapt well to the new world where the only skills that matter are survival skills, but he also shows us people like Isherwood Williams from Earth Abides who try to keep civilization alive by educating the next generation.  It’s an interesting contrast and the main character Stephen is torn between both sides.  On one hand he loves reading, but on the other his grandfather told him repeatedly that it was useless and a waste of time.

Stephen is a great character readers can sympathize with.  He’s tough and goes through a lot during the course of the novel, but he also has a more tender side which we see when he falls in love with Jenny.  For those of you already cringing at the mention of yet another teenage romance, never fear!  It is not the focus of the novel and it certainly is unconventional.  Jenny is also an excellent character in her own right and although she may seem like the typical tough rebel at first, her backstory makes her personality a lot more believable.

I wouldn’t call the plot of The Eleventh Plague on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrilling, but it does move along quite nicely and Jeff Hirsch never got bogged down in excessive descriptions.  It has some great plot twists and the ending isn’t exactly happy, but it’s not tragic either.  Some say the ending isn’t satisfying at all but I liked it because it stayed true to the characters.  That, for me at least, is far more important than a fairytale ending.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2012 4:52 PM

    Great analysis, Carrie, and the main character is clearly portrayed with the right level of vulnerability to hook the reader ~ a vital ingredient!

    • November 21, 2012 8:36 PM

      Definitely! It’s important to have strong male protagonists, but they also need to have a vulnerable side as well.

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