The premise of Nil is what initially intrigued me. I have been searching high and low for decent survival novels, with particular interest for ones set on deserted islands. I don’t know what it is, but TV shows like Shipwrecked (RIP), Lost, Survivor and the like really appeal to me. Maybe I lived in the jungle in a past life, or maybe I’m subconsciously preparing myself for a future plane crash. I don’t know.
In Nil, teenagers are randomly disappearing from their homes and towns, and turning up on Nil, this mysterious island that seems to be only inhabited by other teenagers and cats. The teenagers have a year to get off the island through one of the portals, or something terrible will happen. The book follows Charley as she arrives on the island, and struggles to return home.
Nil is told from two points of view: Charley’s, and Thad’s. Obviously, they are the main pairing of the book, and so the majority of the their thoughts are about each other. I liked reading from Charley’s point of view a lot. She’s new to the island, whereas Thad was more of a veteran. It was interesting to discover the island alongside her, as she tried to figure out if anyone else was on the island, why the hell there were random zebra running around, and how to get home.
Thad, on the other hand, was a little dull. All he seemed to think about was Charley, and it became a little boring. He wasn’t a very well rounded character at all, and I often found myself rushing to get back to Charley’s chapters. She was a much more relatable and interesting protagonist.
The characters were not this book’s strong point. There was little development for the main characters, let alone the abundance of secondary characters that were introduced throughout the novel. Matson didn’t do a very good job with them, which is a shame because an ensemble cast could have added a lot to the novel. None of the characters were particularly well fleshed out, and that includes Charley, although she was definitely the best of the bunch.
The plot as Charley and co. search for portals to escape the island was good, as it was fast paced and captivating, even thrilling at times, especially when the characters were chasing after the moving portals. I would have loved it if there were more survival bits included, such as hunting, building, running from predators, discovering new places, and all that jazz. But instead the romance took up most of the story, and it became really grating, especially since there was little build up between the two characters. They got together very early on in the book, and it left little to be desired.
Quite honestly, I was expecting more from the island itself. I admittedly went into Nil with very high expectations for it, something on a Lost kind of level, but I didn’t get much out of it. There was very little explanation as to what the island was and how it came to be, and where and why and all that. There were a couple of theories thrown around, one of which seemed the most plausible, but this was only given a couple of paragraphs and one conversation throughout the entire novel. If you’re looking for a book that uncovers the overall mystery before it ends, Nil is not it.
I enjoyed Nil a lot, and it numbed my craving for desert island for a couple of weeks, but it’s not particularly memorable. The mystery is very disappointing, especially as it’s the most important part of the novel. Matson spends too much time on the romance for my liking, and I found myself becoming very frustrated because I wanted answers.