Review: 21 Erased by Barbara Rayne

The code is your identity, your bank account, your credit card, the bus fare… your existence. When they take it away, you disappear like you never lived at all. All it takes is a moment and you’re no longer a human being…you’re nothing. Everything you thought you owned is shattering into pieces in front of your eyes, you’re disappearing without leaving a single trace of your existence. You were that insignificant. The system had you that much, nothing was yours but the illusion. They own your life. When you got in their way, they spat you out like a chewing gum that lost its flavor. You no longer exist. You have been erased…

The author’s web site describes 21 Erased with the following section:

The book addresses special readers, those who have the speed of thinking, sharp observations, and whose mind understands immediately. Those who need extensive descriptions to have enough time for their mind to adjust, whose mind wanders off, those find it too quick, need explaining what just hit them.

With just one sentence, the main character’s world is opening up in front of your eyes. All the rules of that harsh life are outlined and you are drawn into the plot breathless. You’ll find yourself breathing with her, tense and living her life. You are a special reader because the book itself is special.

Only intelligent mind that connects everything in an instant, that sees the traps and lies in a life around him, is the one that will breathe with this book. You will recognize some things that are in all regimes – you cannot fool the intelligence. We see…

When I first read the description above, I found it a bit pretentious. After having read the book and having gotten familiar with Rayne’s style (or at least the style she chose for 21 Erased), the above section doesn’t seem so odd anymore.

21 Erased is the story of Sarah told by herself. She is a young woman working as a cook in a government building. She also carries coffee, when necessary, to the offices. She is a simple resident living in constant fear of the system. However, what makes Sarah special is her ability to distinguish the true nature of the dark canvas of their lives. One day, during her brother John’s birthday party, she shares her negative opinions about their situation with Steven, a friend of John’s. And the same night she gets kidnapped from her home by government agents.

“They know everything. I was angry because I was scared, I lived in fascism and nobody saw it but me.”

The book starts well. It gives a good indication about what’s to come. It draws the reader in. When I read the short, 2-page, prologue-like first chapter, I felt I had to read more. This first chapter is a brief introduction to the book’s setting. Unfortunately the author doesn’t develop it as much as I’d like to but this brief glimpse is enough to tell the reader she’s getting herself into a story about a dark, tightly-controlled society.

In this future fascist dystopian society, the code that people carry on their hands is their identity, their money, their house key, their car key, their bus pass. Without it or with an invalid code, they are nothing. They simply cease to exist. And everybody knows that maladjusted people are taken to the Adjustment Centers that were originally opened for pandemic control. They never come back.

This is a world where the heavy hand of religion is constantly felt on the shoulders of the citizens. There are prayers every day, for everyone at specific times. When the TV programs end, everybody pray and place their hand on their code reader and then, only then, they can go to sleep. People don’t talk at work and the conversations during breaks revolve around simple things such as a TV show or a movie.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that government controls every aspect of its citizens lives. They control the media who tell people what to say and what to think. They even control the music or the shows that people listen to in their smart cars. The government also takes the responsibility of raising exemplary citizens very seriously. For this reason, children are taken away from their parents at birth. Every citizen is given a pill once a month that needs to be taken during a predefined time of the month. Internet is heavily controlled, people cannot kiss in public, cannot consume alcohol, cannot leave their state without permission.

One can’t even find solace in good weather. Because of the climate change, the only season is winter. The temperature is always below 40F (5C). Some people are worn out from the cold and they have no money for heating. And when the sun comes out, it is not pleasant. It burns their skin.

21 Erased is a very fast read. Not only as a consequence of its novella size but also thanks to the author’s style. Rayne also uses short chapters in her book, which contributes to the overall ease of read. But mainly because the book has the feeling of a movie made by a camcorder. It’s not necessarily a bad story but the lack of depth in certain areas took me by surprise. All aspects of the story could be more developed. There are some brilliant ideas in the setting that don’t live longer than a simple mention in a sentence. Just when the reader gets ready to learn more about them, they never materialize.

The only character development is Sarah’s. The other characters feel like shadows. And I had a strong feeling that the author changed course in the middle of the story. At times it feels like reading through Sarah’s elaborate diary. There are also a few other things that I cannot discuss in a review for the fear of spoiling the story.

However, and this is important, despite all these shortcomings, I enjoyed reading 21 Erased. Normally, I would consider any one of the points I mentioned above annoying. However the runaway train speed of the author’s style grabbed me and pulled me until the very end. I think Rayne is currently working on her new book called Evolve. I’m interested to see how it compares to 21 Erased.



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  • I’m always interested in dystopias, so I took a look. The prologue gives the impression that the narrator is moderately illiterate. The first chapter shows that this isn’t true, so the only possible conclusion is that the book is poorly written. Problems with vocabulary, punctuation, and basic grammar pop up immediately. ““Whaaaat?”, I shuddered.” Aside from the wonky punctuation, how in the world do you shudder a word? This is one of the many signs of someone who’s never bothered to seek objective critiques and who has possibly published a first draft.

    The prologue sounds as if she’s created a mashup of every dystopian theme that’s ever been written. On top of that, the price (on Smashwords) is outrageous for a novella by an unknown writer. It’s really too bad that the author paid for a review rather than seeking editorial advice — before publication.

    • Having not read 21 Erased myself, I can’t speak to the book in question, although like you, Catana, I did wonder whether this glowing(ish) review was paid for by the author. Yagiz, would you care to disclose? Seems only fair….

      That aside, I should probably comment on the trailer, since it was included as part of the review. I’ve not taken the time to watch very many book trailers, since they usually seem to insult my intelligence about as much as most film trailers, but this one definitely had the opposite of the intended effect on me – It made the book seem clichéd and rather insipid, I thought, but then again, this is coming from someone with a severe aversion to such modern day marketing contrivances.

      Maybe that’s just what it’s come to in this era of ADD and media sensory overload. The mere fact that authors feel compelled to apply audiovisual advertisements to what is still essentially a READING experience speaks volumes to the lack of substance found in most prose today. Again, I’m not trying to single out 21 Erased, Barbara or Yagiz with these comments, but personally I just don’t see the appeal.

  • I might have assumed incorrectly about it being a paid review, but since that’s a feature of SPR, I think I can be forgiven. So I’m not sure whether there needs to be disclosure.

    I confess I only read a few pages, but they were enough to confirm at least part of the review’s criticisms, but add my own. I didn’t look at the trailer at all because, like you, Arthur, I feel that it’s just a marketing device. It isn’t going to tell me anything I need to know about the book or whether it’s worth reading.

  • Catana, Arthur,

    This was a paid review but needless to say this changes nothing in the way I judge a book. I’ve been reviewing fiction for a while and most of them have been either paid by money or by review copies (some signed by authors). And in all cases, it is not hard to imagine that the payment is done before the reviewer reviews the book. And again, needless to say that there isn’t any bonus for a “good” review or even a “well written” one.

    As a reviewer, my only promise has always been to be candid. And I think, in my review, I underlined clearly the things that I liked and disliked about the book.


    • I hope you didn’t think there was any criticism implied in what I said. Your review was intriguing enough for me to take a look at the sample. I will revise my remark about disclosure, though, after having looked through more of the info about SPR and realizing that there may be unpaid as as well as paid reviews. I believe readers are entitled to know which is which, but it’s up to the site owner to make that a requirement for reviewers.

      • Hi Catana,

        I understand. No offence taken.