The Office of Mercy follows 24 year-old Natasha Wiley, a resident of a future utopian society. Living in an enclosed, mostly underground city, Natasha lives in America Five on the east coast of the once-United States. She and her other civilians strive for an ethically pure society, where everyone has employment, enough to eat, free will, and the ability to simulate outdoor activities in the Pretends. Natasha works in the Office of Mercy, where she track and ends the misery of the few Outside surviving humans known as the Tribes. When her mentor Jeffery puts her on a team that goes Outside, she begins to question her ethical thinking and everything her society has taught her.
It is easy to look at The Office of Mercy as another in the string of dystopian novels (Hunger Games, Matched, Delirium, etc.), but it is much more than that. While Viking Penguin are labeling it as YA, it really belongs in the emerging New Adult category, and it would be a great entry for it. It is not too adult that it would not appeal to the same demographic, but the themes are richer and so well thought out. I would put it on par with 1984 in theme, voice, and overall narrative power.
The Office of Mercy opens with a scene of a tribe on a beach, all hope lost. The women and children are starving, believing that their men lost on a hunting trip in-land. With aching bellies and cries from the children, they are overjoyed when the men return with four deer. They build up the fire and roast one of the deer, dancing and reveling in their good fortune. What follows next is perhaps one of the most chilling thing I have read in fiction. From the attention-grabbing opening through to the end, I found the book incredibly hard to put down. And when I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the book.
The ethics of America Five balance precariously on the murdering of humans outside, with the idea that they are being killed to prevent their prolonged, inevitable suffering. When you read the synopsis, you would think it is so easy to argue against it. And yet, Djanikian is amazing at crafting the thinking behind the ethics. She is thorough, keeping everything tied up neatly and easily. Only when Natasha starts to question do you see how well Djanikian and her narrative structure have almost convinced you as the reader that, in their circumstances, America Five is doing what’s best. Natasha’s slow awakening in this world remind me a bit of Matched, though the key event that kick-starts it makes it far less subtle.
One portion that did strike me was the descriptions of Natasha’s first time Outside. Even though she wears a biosuit and helmet, the mention of the too-bright colors, the sun burning, and the overt smell of dirt were incredible passages. In our societies, no one has not been outside, so for Djanikian to nail what would be apt descriptions of the changes was incredible. I also loved her rich characters, her descriptions of the tribe’s fire and food, and what really makes human humans. Natasha had been taught that the tribes Outside had an existence akin to animals, but her experiences allow her to question and see how similar many humans really are to each other. The book also stresses the point of achievable peace, and the methods you would go for to gain that peace. Djanikian’s thinking is well-rounded, so well mapped out that when you finally put down The Office of Mercy, you will find yourself reflecting on her words for days (I still am, obviously).
I have not read a book so emotionally engrossing for a long time. With a fast-paced plot, Mercy reads fast and remains enjoyable, even with its far deeper meanings. I cannot recommend you check it out for yourself.
Purchase The Office of Mercy on February 21. Actually, just go pre-order it now. <—- Click on that link and do it.