Series: Proxy #1
Published: June 18, 2013
Alex London has written a model dystopian. Though not necessarily as shocking as The Hunger Games or as exhilarating as Divergent, Proxy sounds real, and that makes it powerful. London presents a future of the United States where citizens are divided starkly into the rich and the poor, and draws on history to create a modern version of the whipping boy: the proxy. Those with the wealth to spare can purchase the debt of an impoverished child (often a refugee from the wastelands outside the Mountain City) and then punish that child when their own does something wrong. Sydney Carton, the proxy of a particularly obnoxious patron, does not like the system, but he has no dreams of changing it. He simply wants to keep his head down, pay his debt, and earn his freedom. When his patron’s antics finally earn him a death sentence, however, his escape attempt lands him in something much greater than himself.
Syd’s emotional averageness makes him a refreshingly realistic, and relatable, dystopian protagonist. Readers have probably met the “reluctant hero” in literature before, but Syd is really, truly reluctant. When faced with the choice of bringing down the prejudicial patron/proxy system or running away, to live his life in freedom and anonymity, Syd is a kid who runs. And it makes a lot of sense. Syd has a heart, but he also grew up in poverty on streets where everyone looks outs only for themselves and every nice act is a debt that needs to repaid. Giving his life to a cause is not his first instinct, and giving thought to whether it is worth the sacrifices to become a revolutionary shows some admirable self-awareness. Proxy makes it clear that doing the right thing is not always easy, no matter how many people it may help, and that even good people can be tempted to turn away.
The other characters also exhibit a wide range of willingness to help the Rebooters attempting to overthrow the current societal system, which deepens the theme of how difficult it can be to commit oneself to even a seemingly just cause. However, the characters are also a diverse group in general, not only in personality but also in factors that readers look for in “diverse” literature—gender, age, race, economic status, and sexual orientation. Proxy’s futuristic world has a society composed of exactly the types of people who can be found in the US today. I do not think the book is unique, or even necessarily rare, in this regard, but London really emphasizes the diversity of his cast in ways that others simply do not.
The rest of the world-building is very solid, as well. London draws clear lines between the poverty of the Valve and the wealth of the Upper City. The characters (the rich ones) are treated to a plethora of bio-technology that can change appearance on demand, alter their moods, or heal their wounds. Everything from cards to houses are “smart.” Glasses or contacts that can access datastreams are common. (The less wealthy have projectors, and things like their texts are shot directly into the air—actually a bit odd, since private texting exists today for reasonable prices, but it emphasizes the idea that everything in this society is an expensive commodity, including privacy). The background—how this world came to be—could use a bit fleshing out, but overall London provides readers with an adequate amount of information and creates technology that seems incredibly plausible.
Proxy is a well-written dystopian and a refreshing contribution to the genre. Though Proxy happens to be pretty cool, it does not put its focus on effects, on inventing wild technology or insane futuristic conditions. Instead, it puts its energy into its characters and its believability, creating a world that is interesting and moving because it seems real. Recommended.