Some time ago I spoke about Cătălin Pînzaru’s Primul stagiu. Well, today I wish to speak of the English version of said book, The First Stage. I spent so much time with it that it is impossible for me to forget it. So, let’s start with the beginning: the original version appeared in December 2012 (right before the mayan apocalypse) and in 2013 two translations –English and Italian – joined it.
I have to tell you right for the start that this is the first part of what is going to become a trilogy, but do not fret, for it can be read as a stand-alone book. If you want to place a label on it, you could say it’s a sci-fi novel… and yet it is so much more. If you are not exactly a fan of this genre, don’t be discouraged, because you will find here action, mystery and a touch of romance. You don’t really get much from the title and the cover is helpful, but it’s not enough. There is so much more than meets the eye.
In order to understand what this novel is about, where the plot is going to take you, you need to keep in mind some questions: what if one day your whole world is turned upside down? What if the apocalypse is knocking at your door and there is no way of escaping it? What if things aren’t always what they seem? We meet Davis Sander – an ordinary man with a not-so-ordinary past – who, with the help of his friends (Irene Burns, Grant Dumaine, Elisabeth Rinehart), starts a race against time in hopes of uncovering secrets hidden in plain sight, ones that just might decide the future of mankind. Unfortunately, I cannot give you too many details about the plot since I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t read it yet.
For some reason, I usually avoid sci-fi books and I wasn’t exactly sure if I was doing the right thing when I started reading this one. But it proved to be a good choice. It would be foolish of me to say that what is said is not important, buthow it is said matters just as much. One evening… that’s enough to go through it. Or read it while on a bus or a train; it will make the ride much more interesting. It is a fast-paced novel. After the first few pages, when you learn who the main characters are, where and when the action takes place (the USA, in a year that is not specified, but it is easy for us to guess that we are not that far away from our own time), you are sucked into the world created by Cătălin Pînzaru, unable or unwilling to step out of it.
As I said before, this is more than science fiction and every reader can find a little something to enjoy. There’s no beating around the bush here, everything is straight to the point. We are taken further away from normality the way we know it and – what caught my attention – we are given the chance to witness the reactions of the individual and of the masses in extreme situations. Granted, the accent falls on the individual, but the comparison is quite obvious. And so is the shift from reason, to panic and to curiosity.
We see the world mostly through the eyes of Davis Sander. We are there when he tries to both recover his memories and to understand what is suddenly happening around him. He is a good example for the individual who asks the right questions, who values his right to know the truth. And he actually takes a stand. Of course, we are offered more than subjectivity and more than one perspective. Thus, we have the chance to better understand the society in which the characters live… not so different from our own, if you think about it.
This is a piece of literature that is easy to read and easy to visualize. Since dialogue plays an important part and the action doesn’t stall, you can almost hear the lines or get the feeling that the action unfolds just a few feet away from you. As for me… well, we do have a bit of a cliffhanger in the end, so I am looking forward to read the sequel and learn more about the characters I already know and to make some new acquaintances.