Stoker’s dystopian saga begins in an America ruled by government constrictions, where The Registry is an online listing of all girls of eighteen available for marriage to the highest bidder. In a reverse of conventional contemporary society, girls are the desirable sex, boys likely to be thrown away by disappointed parents. In this new marketplace, young women are worth a fortune depending on their beauty, a valuable commodity. While many girls are offered finishing school to increase their marketability, the truly beautiful require only a fundamental education, destined to be claimed by husbands to whom they are beholden in all things. Sounds like a patriarchal fantasy, but that is the premise of the tale, the protagonist the very beautiful, soon-to-be-betrothed Mia Morrissey.
Mia’s dreams of happily-ever-after might have gone as planned were it not for a sudden visit by her married sister, who warns Mia of the charade just before her angry husband arrives to retrieve his rebellious wife, with the consent of the married sister's willing parents. Her sister’s desperate cries and the bruises on her body shock the innocent Mia, who seriously considers escaping her fate just as she is formally introduced to Grant Marsden, a handsome brute who has paid an extravagant amount of money to claim his marital rights. Acting on impulse, Mia convinces her best friend, Whitney, to run away to Mexico, though neither girl knows the distance they must travel to elude capture. Not likely to be chosen for marriage, Whitney reluctantly gives Mia her way, ready to turn back from the venture with each new obstacle.
Mia blackmails a former employee on her father’s ranch: Andrew, a stoic but handsome young man about to report for the mandatory military service required by the government of all young males. Andrew agrees to assist the runaways, but only as far as the Mexican border. The race is on, the three teenagers in an environment that is unfriendly to those who break the rules. A furious Grant pursues his wife, limiting media attention that he might play with his prey before exacting his revenge. From remote farm to the city, a harrowing railroad chase and shelter by a network of those who save young women from their fate (a new age underground railroad?), the travelers encounter hostile strangers, RAG agents (Recovery of Abducted Girls) and the rejected spouse, their flight exacerbated by the confused libidos of a couple never meant to interact and the dangers involved in avoiding capture.
Along the way, Mia and Whitney (traveling disguised as boys) make fools of themselves. Andrew grows irate with the spoiled Mia, who takes the good will of others for granted. Not far behind, Grant takes revenge on anyone who stands in his way, a stereotypical villain. The plot hovers between chase scenes and confrontations, Mia contemplating a romance with Andrew, who is afraid to trust, and Whitney watching both, acutely conscious of her place in the hierarchy. Stoker inserts explanations for a government-controlled America, the establishment of the Registry and mandatory military service—except for the lowest level of society, who are left to live like animals and survive as they can. There are lots of holes in Stoker’s image of the new America in a plot that veers between thriller and young adult romance.
The character development is predictable, a good guy/bad guy scenario with intense moments of unrequited passion… to be continued. It seems this author is planning a series for Mia and Andrew that goes beyond this volume. It will find a following, the Twilight Saga crowd distracted by a dystopian vision that cannot bear much scrutiny. The Registry should have been labeled YA—and even that with reservations.