Sarah Harian – The Wicked We Have Done

sarahharian-thewickedwehavedoneEvalyn Ibarra never expected to be an accused killer and experimental prison test subject. A year ago, she was a normal college student. Now she’s been sentenced to a month in the compass room -an advanced prison obstacle course designed by the government to execute justice.

If she survives, the world will know she’s innocent.

Locked up with nine notorious and potentially psychotic criminals, Evalyn must fight the prison and dismantle her past to stay alive. But the system prized for accuracy appears to be killing at random.

She doesn’t plan on making friends.

She doesn’t plan on falling in love, either.

Sarah Harian’s The Wicked We Have Done is the first novel I’ve read that was labelled New Adult and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it. I’ve always found the New Adult moniker a little vague and wasn’t sure how to interpret it. Was it YA but with slightly older protagonists and a little more risqué content in both action and language? Was it a novel for adults with YA themes, such as self-discovery and finding your feet when going out into ‘the real world’? The nature and necessity of a New Adult category in publishing has been debated and expounded on in great detail, so I won’t go deeper into that here. Still, Harian’s debut hasn’t really answered my questions in that regard and more importantly, it shouldn’t have to. What it did have to do was entertain me and tell a good story, which it certainly did. 

The Wicked We Have Done is a dystopian novel in the vein of The Hunger Games and Divergent, but it also reminded me a lot of Battle Royale in the gruesome way some of the prisoners were killed. So it might be argued that the book isn’t very original, however I thought the concept of the Compass Room was a nice twist. The Compass Room is a new-fangled invention that is purported to be able to see into the minds and hearts of convicts and determine their moral compass, essentially whether they are bad people or not. All of this is achieved by putting the candidates into stressful simulated situations to see how they react, not just on the outside, but by monitoring their hormone levels, heart rate and other bodily functions as well. If a convicted candidate can last inside the Compass Room for a month she’s judged innocent and set free, if she fails the tests, she is immediately executed.

Our main character and narrator is Evalyn Ibarra. She’s a sympathetic character, though there are things about her that remain nebulous for a large part of the novel, even the question of her guilt or innocence. Or perhaps more her intent and motivation as Evalyn herself never denies she’s guilty. I did like that she’s not afraid to give her trust to those she deems worthy in the Compass Room and does so pretty much on instinct. She forms honest connections to some of the others, most clearly and deeply with the handsome Casey. I liked Casey, both for his own story and his actions in the Compass Room. The relationship between Evalyn and Casey does move very fast, bordering on the insta-love trope, but for once I didn’t really mind it, as initially it isn’t shown as a meeting of soul mates, more like an adrenaline-spiked, hormone-driven physical attraction, similar to the relationship that develops between Valerie and Jace. Harian isn’t afraid to kill her darlings, which means that none of the characters are truly safe and she had me genuinely shocked at some of the deaths. Not all of the characters were as fully formed as Evalyn or Casey, but the important ones are. The way Evalyn’s crime was slowly played out though became more of an irritant than an enticement to keep reading. About halfway through the book I just wanted to know what she’d done already. Still, Evalyn’s crime and the events leading up to it made an interesting story in and of itself, though her devotion to Meghan did make me feel a little claustrophobic.

Harian’s development of the world was interesting, though I would have loved to have understood more about the inner workings of the Compass Room. Is it a true room and a virtual reality experience, much like a holodeck, or were they truly taken out to a remote location in the middle of the wilderness? How did the green light work and how did the technicians observe them without obvious surveillance equipment? Similarly, Evalyn’s life outside of college and the Compass Room is pretty much a grey fog, with just her awful relationship with her mum and her quite loving relationship with her little brother standing out clearly. But I would have loved to have learned more about this, because it’s obviously fundamental to who she is, as witnessed by her brother’s appearance in the Compass Room. However, as this is the first in a trilogy, hopefully we’ll learn more about these things in due time.

The puzzle of the Compass Room and the lessons Evalyn learns about herself and her crime (and those of others) make for a compelling story and I really enjoyed it. The Wicked We Have Done is as much action thriller as psychological horror, mixed with a huge dash of romance. After the somewhat cliff-hanger ending, I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in court in the second book, A Vault of Sins, due for publication in September.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.