Dystance is Winter's home - the only place she knows. From the time Dystancians exit the Bio Buildings when they're eight years old, all they can do is struggle to feed themselves enough to survive until ten years later, when they either go to the War - or, optionally, if they're female, to the Bio Buildings to make more future Dystancians. Pretty firmly dystopian, I'd say.
What Winter discovers by chance, though, is context. Stumbling across a remnant of a past world - a library! - it dawns on her, and her friends, that the world has been different. Humans have lived lives very unlike theirs. Once they even had an abundance of paper - enough that stories could be written that weren't even real. She starts asking questions...
I'm going to do this in a pro/con sort of list:
What's good about this novel?
After a bit of a slow start, it becomes a decent pageturner. There's a lot of action, and through the action parts, the writing flows excellently. (I haven't read any previous books by this author, but I imagine his incredibly long Zombie Fallout series might be pretty good if this is what it brings to the table.) The characters are, for the most part, well defined - I was completely charmed by Winter's friend Cedar, whose introduction to the library's romance section was perhaps the most memorable part of the whole book. The question of what kind of world this really is, outside of the absolute war the Dystancians and a few other communities are locked in, grows increasingly interesting. What's the framework, here? Who made things to be this way, why are these people kept in these meaningless warrior/babyfarms? If you're curious enough, you'll very likely keep reading the series.
What do I dislike about this novel?
First of all, the romance. It doesn't work for me. Being sixteen years old gives a character a lot of room for feelings-without-reasons, but here, I'm just being told the main character has romantic feelings for a person, and a flash of childhood memory to explain their close connection, but I don't really get it. It's unfortunate, because part of the (quite decent) characterization later on has this romantic interest making himself less than charming,. For good enough reasons - but it just keeps reminding me I don't know why I should care. I also find the character interaction to be written a bit stilted and awkwardly - contrasting the fluid ease of the more action-filled paragraphs.
My main problem is - I know this is a series starter, but is it not supposed to function as a novel of its own? For that, it just leaves too many questions unanswered or unresolved. I close the book without having satisfied my interest in the questions that kept me reading, which is more than mildly frustrating. If I've misunderstood the construction of the story - if this is more like a first episode than a first book - that's all right, but it doesn't really make me any happier.
...I believe this is going to find an enthusiastic audience, though. All things considered, I'm an old grump, and not quite as devoted to teenagers-in-dystopia as a lot of other people are. Really, a lot.