I will preface this review by letting you know that CS Starr and I have been friends for years. In fact, she very generously helped to edit my first book, A Hidden Fire, which should tell you how much respect I have for her as a writer and an editor.
And it would be dishonest of me to say that I didn’t enjoy her debut effort, Campbell, more because I know her. But that’s only because I’ve known for years how effective her writing is, and I’m so glad I finally have a chance to share it with my readers.
Now, let’s talk about Campbell.
In the growing world of New Adult literature, I’ll be completely honest: I’ve mostly read NA romance. Which is a shame, because New Adult should encompass all kinds of genres, just like Young Adult fiction does. Campbell is a New Adult dystopian novel with strong romantic themes. It’s the first book in a trilogy. Mostly, it’s a striking debut effort.
After a chilling prologue that introduces the reader to a world where everyone over the age of twelve has died in an unnamed plague, Starr builds a strikingly layered world where children have raised themselves. They have survived. They have formed rudimentary governments and economies. Though ten years have passed since the adults died off, civilization is only starting to come together. It’s a world that is both familiar and alien.
Lucy Campbell and Tal Baumann have taken very different paths to adulthood in this new world, but when they come together, you can sense their connection immediately. Despite the suspicion, there’s humor. Understanding. I loved their dialogue, even when they were mad at each other. Their relationship isn’t easy to define, but I like that, too.
Lucy is the leader of a faction that has taken over much of the North American Midwest. It’s also a growing faction that is pressing farther west. Tal is a lieutenant to the leader of the West. Rumors abound, as communication has broken down, but when Tal is sent to Campbell to form a tentative diplomatic relationship, what should have been a routine visit turns into much more.
Lucy and Tal are thrown together in an uneasy alliance against shared enemies. But where have those enemies come from? Neither trusts the other; trust is dangerous in this world. The stakes are high, as thousands of survivors look to their new leaders to create a stable life. The political machinations of both characters make them alternately noble and unlikeable. But being likable doesn’t always make you a good leader, and that’s a lesson that Lucy, in particular, has learned very well.
Both Tal and Lucy are dynamic characters. One of the strengths of New Adult stories is their ability to explore characters in rapid change. In the case of Campbell, it’s more than just characters striking out into the world on their own. In Starr’s world, they’re creating civilization, almost from scratch. Tal and Lucy have survived, but how they build their world, and the personal connections they form along the way, are what will keep you glued to the page.
Campbell isn’t an easy book. There is violence. Profanity. Betrayal. There is also connection. Survival. Loyalty. Even love? In a world where children have had to raise themselves, what kind of adults would they become? What kind of leaders would they make? Campbell is a gripping read, highly character driven, yet full of action. I stayed up way too late reading it. (And I didn’t regret it the next morning.) CS Starr is an author to watch.
“Politics, sexuality, acceptance, abuse, and identity, sense of family and questions of trust are all explored throughout the novel. Campbell is as much a study of one’s identity as it is an exploration of this post-apocalyptic world, building up to the big revolutionary reveal but it is only the beginning and I’m definitely curious to know more.”
If you’re at all interested in Dystopian novels (Or even if you’re not. I’m not a huge dystopian fan, and I really loved it.) I really encourage you to check out Campbell.