14: Entertaining until the end

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fantasy and science fiction book reviews14 by Peter Clines14 by Peter Clines

Nate Tucker needs a new place to live and it needs to be cheap. When a co-worker recommends a place that’s inexpensive and close to work, Nate thinks it’s too good to be true. That’s because it is. After Nate moves in, he starts to notice some weird stuff going on — glowing mutant cockroaches, the light in his kitchen that turns into a black light no matter what kind of bulb he inserts, the elevator that never works, all the padlocks on apartment 14. There’s a lot of strangeness going on in Nate’s new home, but the manager is tight-lipped and disapproves of curiosity.

All of Nate’s neighbors have also noticed that there’s something wrong with their apartments, and the whole building, but most of them are happy to remain ignorant — too many questions can get you kicked out. But a few of the neighbors are willing to join Nate in his snooping. These folks are an eclectic mix. There’s Veek, the Indian woman who controls the internet service; Tim, who seems to have more skills than his life as a publisher would suggest; Roger, a grip at a Hollywood studio; Xela, a starving artist who likes to sunbathe topless on the roof; Mandy, who seems scared of everything and keeps checking her credit score; Andrew, a religious nut who likes to monitor everyone’s morality; Clive and Debbie, a couple who live in the biggest apartment of all; and Mrs. Knight, an old widow with cats. Together this group starts investigating, and the discoveries they make are unsettling and have implications that affect not only the tenants of their apartment complex, but even the entire universe.

I loved the first 3/4 of 14. During this time Nate and his neighbors are investigating their strange apartment building and trying to put all the odd bits together. Peter Clines sets up a really creepy atmosphere with a nice pace that kept me mentally turning the pages (I was listening to the audio version) as fast as I could. I was so intrigued by the uncanny building that I had a hard time putting the book down. I couldn’t wait to find out what was happening, especially as the mounting evidence seemed to suggest something weirdly metaphysical was going on.

14 entertained me for a long time, but once I got to the end, I felt like Peter Clines let me down. There are two reasons. The first is that Clines didn’t bring all the creepy elements into a cohesive conclusion. As just one minor example (because I’m trying to avoid spoilers), we don’t learn why the cockroaches look like they do. We don’t learn how all the elements fit together. Perhaps a sequel is coming and we’ll learn all this. If so, that’s fine. If it’s left standing as it is, though, it just feels like Cline threw together a lot of creepy elements to freak us out, but they could have been any other combination of creepy elements. They don’t fit tightly together. All along I had been trying to piece things together and coming up with my own explanation that turned out to be better than what Clines delivered. In fact, what he gave us turned out to be a plot device that is becoming something of a cliché in fantasy literature these days. If you want a hint (it’s a spoiler, but it’s one you’ve likely seen if you’ve read a few reviews), I’ll put it in my special invisible ink here. Just highlight with your cursor if you want to see it: LOVECRAFT.

The second reason, and this is a really big one for me, didn’t become evident until the last couple of pages. That’s when I realized that the plot was ridiculous from the beginning. Telling you why would ruin the story for you, but if you need a little more information so you can decide whether this book is for you, here’s the spoiler: At the end we learn that this apartment complex is all that keeps humanity safe from certain doom and it’s being lived in by curious people that don’t know this. If this house is humanity’s only hope, wouldn’t the authority be a little more careful about it? Clines has an explanation for this — the best place to hide something is in plain sight — but it doesn’t work. This was a place that would have been being studied by scientists and kept out of civilians’ hands. Letting a bunch of clueless people live there is a really bad idea!

It’s hard to know how to rate 14. On the one hand, it entertained me for several hours. But the end was a disappointment and made the rest of the book feel disappointing in retrospect. If you like a creepy atmosphere and lots of suspense, and you’re not too worried about the issues I’ve mentioned, give 14 a try. I liked the audiobook version I listened to which was narrated by Ray Porter. I liked what he did with the characters except for Veek. Porter’s voice for her sounded like the kind of clichéd male 7-11 clerk you’d see in a sitcom. Other than that, he was fantastic.

Publication Date: May 7, 2012 Chosen by Audible.com as the best sci-fi novel of 2012! Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches. There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much. At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends. Or the end of everything…

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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6 comments

  1. Well, darn it! I was getting really interested!

  2. I’ve noticed a trend in a lot of modern Fantasy…they don’t have good endings. So much focus is often placed on the “reveal” or “twist” that making an ending satisfying to the reader is forgotten about. I’m not saying that every story needs a happy ending, and in fact I saying quite the opposite. Every story needs to have an ending that is appropriate for the message the author is trying to give to the reader. I wonder sometimes when I stumble into an ending I’m unhappy with if the author had an alternate in mind. I like to think that they re-wrote it multiple times or were influenced by the editor/publisher to make their ending different than intended. I’ve often heard the hardest part of writing a story is starting it and ending it, and I guess that is really a true statement. I am keeping 14 on my TBR list since the concept as a whole intrigues me, and I hope there is a sequel that expands upon the universe Cline created.

  3. Brandon Macintyre /

    This Average Reader’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
    I liked the ending explanation and loved the characters. Audiobook narration was excellent, bumped up a star for the narrator.

    I also read “The Fold” by Peter Clines which has some minor ties to this book, even some cameos from “14” characters. They are clearly in the same universe. It feels like there will be more books that explain things further and tie these two books together more. I’m hoping anyways. I enjoyed both.

    • haha, we need to change the “average reader rating.” I also keep thinking the same thing every time I see it.

      Brandon, if you’ll click the stars above the comment form, your rating will show up at the top of the post (averaged in). Thanks!!

  4. Brandon Macintyre /
    Book- 4/5 Audiobook narrator - 5/5

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