I must admit to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with Suzanne Young’s The Program series, not because of the writing, but because I often have problems engaging with stories about memory manipulation. It’s a pet peeve of mine because the memory-loss trope can in some cases give the author license to change the rules a little too much during the story and pull the rug out from under the characters’ and the readers’ feet a little too often for my liking.
In other words, in a narrative where the characters (and by extension the reader) can’t rely on anything being real, what’s the point of reading the story? I can’t say that Young’s books stray too far into that territory, but some of the earlier books in the series (The Program and The Treatment), at least for my liking, came close. Again, it’s not at all a criticism of the writing. Young’s narratives are smooth and tight, the characters relatable and the pacing spot on for dystopian action/adventure/romance.
That said, I really enjoyed the two prequel novels in the series – The Recovery and now The Epidemic – even more than the original two books. I think I like the prequels even more than the original duology because they explain the genesis of the society in the original books, and now those books make a lot more sense to me. It might even be worth going back and reading them again with the story from the prequels in mind. The newest installment, The Epidemic, is my favorite of the books to date because it clearly bridges the time before The Program with the time of the terrible society we see in The Program.
In The Epidemic, lead character (Quinlan – if that’s truly her identity which she learns to doubt in The Recovery) is easy to empathize with as she struggles to figure out who she can trust in her life. Her memories clearly have been manipulated, but it doesn’t stop the reader – and Quinlan herself – from forming a clear idea of who she is as a person. A strong theme throughout the book is the significance of a “true” name or identity versus what we make of our own lives and relationships. The romance is sweet and fragile and very believable. The story’s final resolution is bittersweet. Even though I had my reservations about the very first book in this series, I kept bearing with it and felt the books became better and better as the story developed and I thought the foray into the past for the most recent two books was a great idea that did a lot to flesh out the original books that happen later chronologically in the story world. I don’t know if Young has more planned for this world – I’d actually love to find out what happens after The Treatment after having read its genesis in The Epidemic – but even if this is the end for this series, it’s a satisfying ending.