My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 304 pages
Release date: 27 March 2018
Maddie thought she and Logan would be friends forever. But when your dad is a Secret Service agent and your best friend is the president’s son, sometimes life has other plans. Before she knows it, Maddie’s dad is dragging her to a cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.
And not a single word from Logan.
Maddie tells herself it’s okay. After all, she’s the most popular girl for twenty miles in any direction. (She’s also the only girl for twenty miles in any direction.) She has wood to cut and weapons to bedazzle. Her life is full.
Until Logan shows up six years later . . .
And Maddie wants to kill him.
But before that can happen, an assailant appears out of nowhere, knocking Maddie off a cliff and dragging Logan to some unknown fate. Maddie knows she could turn back- and get help. But the weather is turning and the terrain will only get more treacherous, the animals more deadly.
Maddie still really wants to kill Logan.
But she has to save him first.
Three words: This. Was. Awesome. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun with spies/secret agents since watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Unlike the Gallagher Girls series that made Ally Carter a staple of bookstore shelves worldwide, Not if I Save You First isn’t an espionage thriller, more a wilderness survival thing, but it has all the verve and banter of a great spy comedy. So Hatchet, but funny. As it is, the book is almost perfect for what it is–a PG James Bond that ticks all the tropes while winking at you the whole way through.
Carter knows what she’s doing when she mixes together a badass heroine, a lovable boyfriend and a girl saves boy narrative that reverses your tried-and-tested romance novel formula, then adds a healthy dose of survival/spycraft. I don’t know how accurate any of the latter is (probably not too much), but it’s good enough to convince your average reader.
It’s not like you’ll want to nitpick anyway, not when you’re too busy marvelling over the cleverness of Madeleine Rose Manchester, teenage girl Bear Grylls whose weapons of choice include knives (yawn) and lip gloss (yes). Don’t forget nail polish remover, which she’ll remind you is just the thing you need to start fires in a pinch, and the classic tights, useful for catching fish before you starve to death in the Alaskan wilderness.
Speaking of which, Alaska is great. Alaska makes this book fun and exciting, especially as it’s always trying to murder our protagonists. Before you take me for a complete psychopath, it’s nothing they can’t handle. The place is cold and deadly and there’s no way I could handle it–I’d be dead three chapters in, and the kidnappers haven’t even appeared at that point–but half the fun in secret agent novels is watching the hero effortlessly swipe aside challenges that would kill you in a heartbeat.
Maddie and Logan manage that with panache. Maddie’s whip smart and tough, but Logan’s no pushover and doesn’t need to be a damsel in distress for Maddie to shine. Each of them have their own strengths and shortcomings, and they’re a real battle couple when they let their talents complement each other. Of course, this is an Ally Carter novel and they do fall for each other amidst a sensible amount of bickering, but they’re well-drawn characters with or without the romance. See, every love interest in an espionage novel doesn’t have to be the damsel in distress or the femme fatale. You can actually make them useful without also making them evil. It’s possible!
Oh, and let me say that I admire Maddie’s dedication to looking good even when she’s literally hundreds of miles from civilisation, living in the middle of nowhere with no human contact other than her father. (Should that even be legal? I seriously thought the dad would be revealed as an evil narcissist at some point. I’ve read too many of those novels.)
No, she doesn’t have to look good, mind you, but that’s some serious commitment from a girl who also has to get up early to chop wood and catch fish in freezing temperatures every day while staying alive from bears and the like, and reads loads of books on the side, just for fun.
The plot twists are good. Some of them are to be expected, but others are unconventional enough to surprise. Some incredulous moments are effectively played for laughs, like Logan guessing his kidnapper’s name on the first try. Bet you’ll never guess it yourself.
It’s, wait for it…
STEFAN. I kid you not. Let me introduce you properly to this exceptional young man. Visualise the most stereotypical Russian mobster you can imagine, now think of him even more Russian and mobster-like than before. You’ve hit the nail on the head there in terms of who Stefan is, at least at the start. I love everything about Stefan’s character. He’s one of the best parts of the book for sure, and has its spiciest lines.
Basically, the thing about Not If I Save You First is that I’d be comfortable giving it to a 10-year-old kid and can enjoy it fully at the same time. And now I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to go back and catch up on the Ally Carter classics.
*Thanks to Hachette Children’s Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*