Published: Oct. 2014
Years ago the Earth became inhabitable and, to save at least part of humanity, the great city of Atlantia was built beneath the ocean. Many were convinced to stay Above and to die young when their children were saved and sent Below. But now the Above has changed and Rio dreams of the day she can choose to live their herself. When her twin sister Bay chooses to go Above instead, however, Rio finds herself trapped in Atlantia. To be reunited with her sister, Rio will have to break all the rules, delving into the mystery surrounding her mother’s death and their city’s past, and maybe, for the first time, revealing her own terrible secret–she is a siren.
Perhaps no book should have to bear the burden of comparison to the titles its author previously wrote, but, as humans, we seem to want to make sense of things with categorizations and comparisons; it is only natural, then, to have certain expectations about Atlantia from previous knowledge about the Matched trilogy. Even though I read the entire trilogy, I did not think too highly of it. I was disappointed that the story focused on a somewhat irrational love triangle rather than exploring the issues of freedom and choice that the dystopian society portrayed should have raised. When I opened Atlantia, I tried to enter its world without preconceived notions (after all, this is a very different work and a standalone title rather than the start of a series). Still, a nagging voice at the back of my head kept repeating, “But will this one be good?”
I would be surprised to see Atlantia win any awards, but it proves a fair enough read. Ally Condie clearly devoted a lot of time to making this work different from her previous work and that shows in the details of her world. Atlantia, the city beneath the ocean, is a magical, mystical place full of strange gods and manmade beauty–I appreciated that the inhabitants could look with awe and wonder upon the artistic creations around them, rather than scorning them simply because they were made of metal and not “natural”. Of course the protagonist Rio longs to see real trees, not just sculptures, and she understands that there is a different beauty, perhaps a deeper one, in something that is alive, but she also delights in what she has and does not call it bad just because humans designed it. Seeing the city through her eyes, noting its decay even in its beauty, is quite simply a treat.
The world building is fairly sound, if not excruciatingly detailed. For instance, Rio notes that the gods were created by the founders of the city, but does not dwell too long on what that might mean to the people. Different views towards the gods are expressed–some people believe in them despite knowing their animal forms are arbitrary while others secretly scorn them. There is no overall comment, however, on whether the government should have created a religion, if the government needs a religion, or if the government should distance itself from religion. Rio lives in a dystopian society, but seems afraid to look too closely at it, as long as things are still running smoothly.
The character development is fairly sound, as well. The Matched trilogy never drew me in completely because I could not understand why the protagonist would risk everything for a boy she did not know. Atlantia solves this problem by making the object of Rio’s quest her twin sister. Thus, even though sister Bay is absent for the majority of the story, I could believe in Rio’s determination because “twin” is basically used as a shorthand for saying that the two were really close. It helped that Rio also kept a healthy distance from her love interest, including him in her activities, but not divulging all her secrets at once just because she finds him attractive. As an aside, though–wouldn’t it be really great if we could have had a story about sisters where the sisters went on a quest together. That would be true sister power!
Atlantia did not “wow” me, but it proves a pleasant enough read. Though the plot is not particularly remarkable, the story sets itself apart from other books on the YA market with its elements: sisters driving the narrative instead of a love triangle, a protagonist who works with machinery and is not considered unfeminine, and a love interest who genuinely works for the good of the protagonist and is not around just because “romance sells.” Also, did I mention there is no love triangle at all? If Ally Condie keeps bringing these surprises to her work, I will keep reading.