Trial by crime in ‘The Wicked We Have Done’

18000952The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian
Penguin/InterMix Books, March 18, 2014 (Science Fiction)*

My rating: Beach vacation (3/5)

The Wicked We Have Done is the first speculative novel from Sarah Harian. It’s focus is Evalyn Ibarra, who has been convicted of the act of terrorism. However, Evalyn may have gotten her ticket out of prison with the new Hunger-Games-style testing system that government has put in place.

Fifteen years ago, government scientists manufactured an accurate test for morality – an obstacle course, where the simulations within proved whether a candidate was good or evil. It was named Compass Room. (p. 10)

Evalyn is given the choice, and she chooses to become an participate in the Compass Room, along with several other questionable criminals. If Evalyn or any of the others react to the simulations in a certain way they are immediately terminated, saving the government money in prison upkeep. What could possibly go wrong?

I have mixed feelings about The Wicked We Have Done. On the one hand I read this book fairly quickly, which tells me I was pretty darn engaged with the book. And it was readable. On the other hand, I wasn’t wowed by the book’s premise. I’m just not convinced that the set up is plausible. The government is allowing criminals to participate in “games” to determine innocence? Not sure I buy that. Nor am I convinced as to how these simulations actually determine whether or not someone is good or evil and I don’t feel that this was explained in depth in the book. What exactly is the chip implanted into Evalyn’s head measuring and how is it doing this?

What I liked about the book was the fact that the characters were all morally ambiguous. There is absolutely no question that each of the participants in the Compass Room have committed crimes. The degrees of these crimes vary, but it’s not a question of anyone not being guilty. I thought that this was an intriguing tactic to take and it gave the book an original quality in a genre that is saturated with dystopian tales. My complaint with this would be with Evalyn. To an extent, I felt that Evalyn was being given a bit of a pass with her crime because of the circumstances that lead up to it. Personally, I feel that what Evalyn did was horrific no matter the reasoning and I would have liked to have seen a little more exploration of her guilt; at this point I’m not really sure how remorseful she actually was. In a sense, I wish Evalyn was more of a black or white villain or heroine – but such is life.

My last comment has to do with the “romance” here. I’m not sure why every dystopian book aimed at a younger audience has to have a romance, but we certainly has the obligatory romance subplot happening in The Wicked We Have Done. If you’re reading this for the romance, I would recommend that you reconsider. If you’re looking for a realistic development of a relationship, it’s not here between Evalyn and Casey. Their relationship is sparked by an intense situation. Throw a bunch of twentysomethings in a forest and things are bound to get romantic, or at the very least, lustful. A timeless romance this was not.

I wonder if it’s even possible to be in love after a handful of days. Or if the circumstances are only fooling me. (p. 162)

At the end of the day, I’m kind of feeling done with the whole dystopia theme and I think this is impacting my experience with this one. I don’t regret spending the time reading it, but I don’t think that it broke new ground.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Similar Reads

As soon as I started The Wicked We Have Done I was immediately struck with the similarity to Sophie Jordan’s The Uninvited which I reviewed in January. The premise is very similar to The Wicked, although Jordan’s novel is aimed at a younger teen audience. Although I do think the government’s ability to put their questionable plan of action into working order was further developed in The Uninvited.

Uninvited (Uninvited, #1)

If you’re intrigued by criminal heroes and heroines, I recommend checking out Ann Aguirre’s Dred Chronicles. I reviewed the first book in the series, Perdition, also in January and like The Wicked it features characters that are definitely guilty of crimes. I think Aguirre went the extra mile with her characters, allowing them to straddle the lines between right and wrong while still having the humanity to be the main characters of a series.

Perdition (Dred Chronicles, #1)

Are there any other books out there with a criminal hero or heroine that are worth the read?



  1. Not for a younger audience but sharing the sci-fi/romance genres and criminal protagonist are Gabriel’s Ghost, by Linnea Sinclair, and Grimspace (also) by Ann Aguirre.

    1. I haven’t read Gabriel’s Ghost, it’s on my to-read list since I LOVED Sinclair’s Games of Command (so good!). I love Ann Aguirre – apparently she’s writing a teen series as well.

  2. That’s funny – I haven’t read Games of Command yet (it’s on my book table, in the To-Read-As-Soon-As-I-Don’t-Have-Reviews-To-Write pile).

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