The Key to Fear by Kristin Cast – Review
By Emma Stamp
The first book in a new series by author Kristin Cast, The Key to Fear is directed at young-adults and is a mix between dystopian fiction, romance and sci-fi – although inevitably with books of this type, the shadow of The Hunger Games looms large.
“To health, to life, to the future”: No, this isn’t some creepy new saying the government has adopted in regard to the pandemic, this is the motto those living under the Key’s control abide by. The Key’s number one rule is: “There is no touching for a healthy tomorrow”.
Elodie is a girl who follows the Key, obeys the rules and trusts in the system that has kept her safe. Or at least she used to before she met Aiden.
Aiden is a rule-breaker, part of the resistance known as Eos; he just wants to be free and he does not believe that the Key are there to keep him safe. Aiden is fast running out of chances, but will his family connections save him?
The book follows the lives of Elodie and Aiden in a post-pandemic world where a virus, Cerberus, has wiped out most of the human race. Out of this disaster rose The Key. Everyone lives in their own bubble in constant fear of another outbreak. Physical contact of any kind has been outlawed, babies are now conceived by science, the Key chooses your career and your partner, and books are banned. This has become the norm, and no one questions their lack of freedom. Most people live the majority of their life in VR and doing anything out in the real world is considered unusual.
The author tells the story from the alternating points of view of Aiden, Elodie and Blair. I finished the book still trying to figure out Blair’s character; she is clearly an ambitious woman, high up in the Key’s leadership, but how she fits in with the regime is never explored. Maybe this will be revealed in future editions.
Following a brief run-in, Aiden and Elodie appear to fall in love early on in the story, but it is unconvincing. Their love seems to be based more on the differences between Aiden and the man Elodie had been matched with and intended to marry. Given that the premise of the book is that the “no touching” rule is to be broken only by love, I thought the author would have really gone to town creating chemistry between the two main characters – a plot device that made The Hunger Games so unputdownable.
There were aspects of the book that I wish had been explored more. At one point it became obvious that the Key were experimenting on young children, but it was never explained why. Aiden’s parents were killed, but this was never explored in any further detail, nor was what happened to Elodie’s father. The banned book element – a staple of other much more renowned dystopian novels – was here a little strange and underdeveloped. Other than the Key wanting to control everything, no other reason was provided as to why the books were banned.
The Key to Fear is not a challenging read – I expect young adults would consume it at the same fast pace that I did – and the author has certainly hit on a prescient theme. But ultimately, I was left feeling underwhelmed, with so many questions unanswered.
The key to a good dystopian book is how the author constructs an alternative world and then helps the reader understand how it works. Sadly, little is explained in this first volume. As a set-up for future installments it is fine – and I am intrigued enough to read more in my search for answers – but The Key to Fear does not stand alone as a satisfying and coherent whole.
‘The Key to Fear’ by Kristin Cast is published by Head of Zeus, £18.99 hardback