My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m a little late to the game, but when I finally got around to reading this strongly written novel, I found myself unable to put it down. Smith masterfully conjures characterization and detail with an economy of words. I’ve heard criticism that the characters are too “annoying” to root for, but because of Smith’s sure hand I found them more to be authentically drawn early twenty-somethings (which I suppose could make them automatically annoying). Their actions and reactions may not always be heroic, but they’re never unrealistic or without relatable motivation. They are authentically human, and as such I had no trouble sympathizing with and rooting for them. Smith deserves extra points, too, for coming up with an original and creative threat to these characters, and for keeping the pacing up in what is essentially a single, confined setting. I was so caught up in the story and the characters that I really didn’t want this novel to end. I thought it was a compellingly crafted character study of people dealing with an extreme situation.
My one complaint is that the Mayans are portrayed without much humanity. They are the inscrutable Other, complicit in what befalls the protagonists, but I would have liked to see at least a moment of doubt cross a single Mayan face, a look of regret or even helplessness. Instead, they remain alien, unknowable, an incomprehensible threat, and I can only imagine how much more complex the story could have been had the Mayans been as well drawn as the other characters.