The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The RoadInformation

Goodreads: The Road
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 26, 2006

Summary

Years ago, the world burnt. Now all is ash. In the desolation, a father and his son walk towards the south and the coast, in search of hope.

Review

The Road was published in 2006, two years before The Hunger Games started a boom in the publication of dystopian/postapocalyptic fiction, yet even taking into consideration that McCarthy wrote the book before the fad, The Road doesn’t offer much original to the genre. (In fact, the feel of the book has a lot in common with Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plague,” which was published in 1912.) It’s a dystopian focused heavily on world-building, on the day-to-day experiences of a boy and his father as they wander about the roads, looking at a burnt out world. There isn’t much in the way of an overarching plot. We’re talking about atmosphere here–and too many dystopians have been written, both before and after The Hunger Games, for atmosphere to be particularly interesting.

So for much of the book I was thinking, “I get it. They’re walking around, looking for abandoned canned food no one else has looted, pushing their lives in a shopping cart and trying to avoid other people on the road because you never know who’s going to shoot you.” And I have read so many books like this. Once in a while, the boy and the father ponder their fate or the fate of humanity. The real problem is: I have read books that have a very similar world-building (Angelfall by Susan Ee comes to mind), but which also have a plot. So The Road didn’t impress me.

I know the book has some status as school required reading, so it’s hard to dismiss it entirely. There are some things about it that are philosophically interesting, if one is willing to dig about for them. The relationship between the boy and his father is particularly worth a second look for anyone reading this academically. And it asks some questions that are basically dystopian/postapocalyptic staples: What does it mean to be human? What is it ethical to do in the pursuit of survival? Is there really a clear line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys?” But, since these are questions practically inherent to the genre, I’m not sure I can say there’s anything specially compelling about the way they’re raised in The Road, if it’s worth reading this book over other books from the genre.

The Road is solid, but I’ve seen so much that’s similar that I simply can’t be excited about it. It just seems so standard, except with a particularly literary fiction type of style (mixing up the chronology, not clearly indicating who’s speaking, etc.), and the style simply doesn’t compensate for the lack of original thought or content.

3 stars Briana

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Ember in the AshesInformation

Goodreads: An Ember in the Ashes
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Source: Library
Published: January 1, 2015

Official Summary

Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Review

An Ember in the Ashes takes readers to a darkly imagined fantasy world, where the Scholar people are oppressed beneath the rule of the Martials, and the Martials themselves must give way to the cruel whims of the Augurs.  No one is safe.  No one can be trusted.  In this world, two teenagers decide they have had enough; they are determined to take control of their own destinies, no matter the danger.

An Ember in the Ashes is somewhat unique in that, for this first installment of the series at least, neither protagonist has any grand schemes about changing their kingdom.  Both just want some peace for themselves; this is a story about people trying to flee a corrupt country to become refugees in a better one, not one about people with a vision.  Even the Resistance, ostensibly working to take down the government, inspires little hope or admiration.

Somehow, neither Laia nor Elias come across as selfish because of this.  Laia is inspired by a deep devotion to her brother.  Elias just wants out of a role in the Martial class that condemns him to be a highly trained killer.  The two have little in common beyond their desire to leave, and perhaps a somewhat irrational belief there is good in just about everyone, which makes their potential romance border on the unconvincing.  Each seems better suited for the other point on their (separate) love triangles.

The other characters tend to be similarly portrayed with a single dominating personality trait.  Despite how much page time many of them get, some still fall flat.  I would have particularly liked to see more backstory for the cruel ones.  In contemporary literature, it isn’t enough to imply someone is evil incarnate and leave it like that; readers expect villains to have become evil somehow.  If villains appear to have little motivation beyond irrational hatred and meanness, it makes less them interesting.

I would also have liked to see more in the way of world-building.  On one hand, Tahir does include a lot of details—and many readers have actually praised what they see as the very rich world-building.  Personally, I felt things were missing.  Blackcliff ostensibly has thousands of students and we essentially only meet four.  Similarly, we meet exactly two servants, in a place that should have dozens.  Mythical creatures are introduced only to disappear, and the history of all of the cultures in the Empire are a bit hazy.  I’m giving An Ember in the Ashes a pass because it’s part of a series and it’s possible a lot of this information will be revealed as the story progress.  If this were a standalone, though, I would feel as though half the book were missing.

I enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes.  It is imaginative, at times sweeping in scope.  I do think, however, it was a little over-hyped.  I never really connected with most of the characters, and I can’t figure out what anyone’s endgame is supposed to be.  If crazy things happen in a book for no apparent reason, it makes it harder to buy into the plot.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red QueenInformation

Goodreads: Red Queen
Series: Red Queen #1
Source: Library
Published: Feb. 2015

Summary

In Mare Barrow’s world, those with Silver blood possess magical powers and live as gods.  Those born with Red blood, such as herself, are reduced to a life of poverty and near-slavery.  Mare does what she can to help provide for her family, working as a pickpocket in the village. Then one day a new life opens up for her, a chance to work in the capital.  But one misstep reveals to the world that she possesses what no Red can–a magical ability similar to that possessed by the Silvers.  To conceal the truth, the royal family proclaims her a long-lost Silver princess.  But Mare has never before played the game of court politics and, in this game, one wrong move will cost her her life.

Review

Red Queen attempts to breathe new life into dystopian YA, blending social injustice with supernatural powers.  However, at this point, nearly all the plot elements the book contains have already been done and it seems impossible not to compare the story with all those that have come before.  Some stories can make a prince in disguise or secret revolutionaries seem fresh and exciting, but though this book kept me reasonably engaged, it never blew me away.  It is a solid YA dystopia, and one sure to please fans of the genre, but I have to admit I do not understand all the hype it has received.

Really, just about everything in this story seems typical.  Mare Barrow, our protagonist, falls nicely into the category of saucy thief and later takes on her rags-to-riches role with the expected results–she talks back to people who have the ability to execute her because she thinks sass makes her powerful.  She meets the expected players in the game of politics–the charming and sunny prince; his moody and Loki-esque brother, the icy queen, the hardened female rebel.  More boxes can be checked–the wise academic mentor, the cunning woman who competes for the affections of the man she loves (maybe).  Meanwhile, her sister, docile and hardworking, seems reminiscent of Katniss’s sister while her boy friend (friend who is a boy?) takes on the role of Gale.

The world building manages to set the story somewhat apart, though of course at this point there is only so much a writer seems able to do with a dystopia.  Social injustice is the main theme here, with Silvers oppressing Reds so they can live in luxury.  The key difference comes with the introduction of Silver powers, which can include anything from element (fire, water) or metal bending to plant growing to mind reading to light distortion.  Actually, there seems to be little Silvers cannot do and the list of powers becomes so long and odd that after awhile I found it unconvincing.  Had Aveyard stuck with a simpler system with more defined rules, I would have believed in magic.  As it is, the world seems full of random superheroes who do not bother to use their powers for any real purpose.

The court intrigue easily proves the most interesting part of the story, though Mare falls into the game with slightly more ease than I would have expected.  Another character warns her she plays as someone else’s pawn and her inexperience means in all likelihood he is right, but still Mare does a remarkable job of at least trying to think like a political noble–I would have supposed her hardscrabble life and lack of schooling would have given her little time to reflect on how to survive a group of murderous nobles.

Unfortunately, Red Queen tries to add even more interest to the plot by introducing a love square.  Three boys in love with one girl.  Perhaps the love triangle has been overdone at this point, but I propose that we do not try to fix that by adding more love interests to the equation.  What are the odds, really, of two princes falling in love with a rude commoner?  What are the odds of three guys all pining for the same girl?  My suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

Red Queen kept me entertained for a day or two, but it did not impress me.  At this point, I do not feel interested enough in either the characters or the plot to continue with the series.  I can find Cinderella stories, dystopias, and court intrigue aplenty in other books–books that might strike me as more original.

Briana

Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Perfect RuinInformation

Goodreads: Perfect Ruin
Series: The Internment Chronicles #1
Source: Giveaway
Published: March 10, 2015

Official Summary

ON INTERNMENT you can be anything you dream – a novelist or a singer, a florist or a factory worker… Your life is yours to embrace or to squander. There’s only one rule: you don’t approach THE EDGE. If you do, it’s already over.

Review

I was not a huge fan of Lauren DeStefano’s Wither, due to poor world building and character development. However, I decided I was willing to give her new series a try, starting with Perfect Ruin. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up liking Perfect Ruin either, and I’m not sure this is even one of those books where I can say the premise was good but the execution was off—because there barely is a premise.

There’s a floating city where the citizens are never allowed to leave to see the earth below. So, a girl wants to get off the city. And that’s pretty much it. There isn’t a lot of motivation behind the desire either, besides her personal daydreams of seeing more of the world, which hardly seems worth risking major bodily harm or death for. Political problems and corruption are implied, but are generally saved for later in the series. I think including everything in one novel, instead of trying to stretch an already thin plot over multiple books, could have improved Perfect Ruin immensely.

As it is the pacing is simply too slow for the majority of the book, and then ultimately too fast. The story opens with the protagonist Morgan spending a couple hundred pages dreaming of getting off her floating city. Only then does action happen, but then it’s too sudden, too late, and too rushed to fit properly into the remaining pages of the book. The end result is that it seems forced and unrealistic.   Add to the unremarkable plot the fact that Morgan is a rather unremarkable main character…and there isn’t much to say about the book. I do like that there are some implications that Morgan has some type of social anxiety, but the narrative doesn’t make a point of drawing attention to it. She handles herself and lives her life as best as possible, tackling difficult situations as they come.

Overall, however, I was just really bored with this book. It reads as if the idea for a great opening scene of a novel was made to stretch over hundreds of pages, and then the main part of the plot never happened. I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

Let’s Discuss!

Have you read Perfect Ruin? Tell me what your favorite scene is in the comments!

Briana

Atlantia by Ally Condie

AtlantiaInformation

Goodreads: Atlantia
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Oct. 2014

Summary

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.

Review

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.

Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

Endgame 1Information

Goodreads: Endgame: The Calling
Series: Endgame #1
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

Twelve thousand years ago, the sky gods descended and created humanity.  They warned that one day they would return and that they would wipe out the planet.  One chance for survival would be given.  Each of the twelve bloodlines must have a player, a trained killer and puzzle solver, ready to play Endgame.  The winner and their people would be the only ones left after the apocalypse.  Now Endgame has come, but are the players ready?

Review

I picked this book up on a whim, having vaguely skimmed the cover jacket and seen a mention of aliens.  Only after I brought it home did I realize that this book is actually more like The Amazing Race than it is a work of science fiction and only later than that did I realize that one of the co-authors is James Frey.  Since I borrowed the book from the library, however, and did not pay for a copy, I decided to read it anyway and to judge the book on its own merits.  My judgement, unfortunately, is not favorable.

The premise of the book, that twelve contestants are racing around the world to solve a puzzle and thus save the lives of their friends and family, means that the authors have to juggle a fairly large cast of characters.  Some writers are quite capable of this–Downtown Abbey, for example, possesses a huge cast but each of the characters tends to appear in each episode and to have some sort of development, even if it’s small (I say this as someone who has seen scattered episodes).  Endgame: The Calling, however, never really tries to introduce all the players.  Perhaps five of them play a key role in this installment of the series and thus receive the most chapters and the longest.  The others are left to fall by the wayside, randomly returning only to remind readers that they have no idea who these people are and thus really don’t care about them.  One player is even offed at the very beginning, presumably just so the book doesn’t have to bother with him.

The characters who receive the most extended treatment in this book are possibly some of the most unlikable.  Though the end of the world is coming and the players could conceivably choose not to play the game (seriously, without reading the book it’s obvious that the only way to save the world is to band together and not go through this ridiculous charade at the behest of some random entities), the characters essentially all decide that, as tender teenagers, they’re going to act like the trained killers they are and just hunt all their enemies down and create carnage around the globe.  This really is a ridiculous plan, since there is no rule that you have to be the last one standing, only that you have to solve the puzzle.  Yet the majority of the players want to eliminate people who could help them win–after all, what happens if you’re the last player but you can’t solve the code?  Watching all the players go crazy just because someone told them they have to play a game, a game, for the fate of the world is sad and puzzling and even disturbing.  After all, if someone thinks human lives are part of a game, would you trust them?  Some of the characters start to realize something is wrong with this picture, but this comes toward the end and these particular players were never the focus of this book.

The players the book does focus on have their own disturbing stories.  SPOILERS AHEAD. One girl and a guy (I can’t even remember their names) team up together and start, predictably, to have feelings for each other even though the girl has a boyfriend back home she was ready to marry.  Cue the infamous love triangle that sees the girl trailing along two guys  because “she’s in love with two people at once and it’s just so hard”.  Another story follows an emotionally disturbed boy who begins stalking a fellow player because he thinks she can “heal” him and, of course, she falls in love with him after he kidnaps her.  The third main story is less prominent than these, but follows a bloodthirsty boy, the youngest of the twelve, who tortures another player for fun.

If the uneven focus of the story, combined with the terrible writing (all present tense, simple sentences), were not enough to make me decide not to pick up the sequel, the contents of the book would.  Stories can contain danger and pain and fear and make it somehow worthwhile, but this one simply seems to want to see how far it can push the boundaries of disturbing in a YA world.  It’s not a world I want to be in.

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (ARC Review)

The Only Thing to FearInformation

Goodreads: The Only Thing to Fear
Series: None
Source: Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Publication Date: September 30, 2014

Official Summary

In a stunning reimagining of history, debut author Caroline Tung Richmond weaves an incredible story of secrets and honor in a world where Hitler won World War II.

It’s been nearly 80 years since the Allies lost WWII in a crushing defeat against Hitler’s genetically engineered super soldiers. America has been carved up by the victors, and 16-year-old Zara lives a life of oppression in the Eastern America Territories. Under the iron rule of the Nazis, the government strives to maintain a master race, controlling everything from jobs to genetics. Despite her mixed heritage and hopeless social standing, Zara dreams of the free America she’s only read about in banned books. A revolution is growing, and a rogue rebel group is plotting a deadly coup. Zara might hold the key to taking down the Führer for good, but it also might be the very thing that destroys her. Because what she has to offer the rebels is something she’s spent her entire life hiding, under threat of immediate execution by the Nazis.

In this action-packed, heart-stopping novel of a terrifying reality that could have been, Zara must decide just how far she’ll go for freedom.

Review

The Only Thing to Fear is an imaginative dystopian featuring two strong leads and a chilling setting.  Author Caroline Tung Richmond takes readers to a world where Hitler won WWII, and the Axis powers divided America.  Nothing of the old republic is left besides old memories.  Protagonist Zara, however, is determined to change that by joining the underground rebel group and helping plot the Fuhrer’s assassination.

The Only Thing to Fear is creative, and it has a lot of atmosphere, with Nazis patrolling the streets and swastikas decorating the towns.  It is not, however, as much of an actual alternate history as I had envisioned.  Richmond does follow a few threads of history into the future, imagining  a world where the Nazi still hunt down “undesirables” like the Jews and encourage good Aryans to have large families to perpetuate their lines.  German children attend military academies, and everyone else goes to work.  Despite all this, it becomes apparent early in the book that the plot and characters could have existed in any other dystopian world.  With the added science fiction element (some humans have developed superpowers from all the Nazis’ genetic tinkering), this book does not need Nazis at all.  They add a specific flavor to the dystopian world, but they are not necessary.

As for the characters, Zara is an excellent protagonist, one whose skills balance out her flaws.  She occasionally lapses into what are pet peeves for many YA readers—being overly dramatic over nothing and taking stupid risks in attempts to look brave—but these are decisions she makes, moments in her life; they are not her defining characteristics.  As a whole, Zara is brave, and determined, and beguilingly trusting in a world where she has no reason to trust.

Love interest Bastian is subtly swoony, the forbidden German romance in a handsome six foot package.  He also has a spectrum of character traits, strong enough to renounce his role in German society and tender enough to look after his mother in a hardened world.

The rebels could use a little more work, or at least a little more intelligence.  Several years ago, one of their members was captured and the plans of a vital mission were revealed during torture.  So one would expect them to stop revealing the full details of important plans to everyone who comes along, including new recruits whom they have no reason to trust.  This is perhaps a silly detail, but readers may have trouble believing in the validity of a rebel group that has no idea how to properly plan a mission.

While the setting and characters are generally strong, the themes of the novel disappoint.  Alternate history and dystopian are both genres that readily lend themselves to exploring important life questions—and The Only Thing to Fear misses its chance to do so.  Although the book is about a teenager who joins a plot to kill the Fuhrer, it does not really address the implications of what it means to kill someone.  And that is a mistake.  Zara is not a dystopian automaton who has been raised to kill, like the protagonists of Legend or Reboot.  She is a farmhand and a cleaning girl.  No matter how many executions she has witnessed, she is not a murderer.

There are also a few moments in the book where there are clear opportunities to segue into a discussion of how the rebels are different from the Nazis.  Both are killing people they do not like.  So are they different?  If so, why?  The book never tackles this question either, even when it seems a second away from raising it.

In the end, I really did enjoy The Only Thing to Fear.  The writing is strong and clear.  The characters are complex and well-developed.  And the setting is chill-inducing.  The book simply is not keen on philosophy or on discussing any of the themes it clearly brings up during the course of the action.  It is all about the show and the ride, and is not very concerned with what it all means, which is disappointing.

Relic by Heather Terrell

RelicInformation

Goodreads: Relic
Series: Books of Eva #1
Source: Giveaway (ARC)
Published: October 29, 2013

Official Summary

The truth will test you…

For fans of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games: high fantasy and dystopia meet in this high-stakes tale of a civilization built on lies and the girl who single-handedly brings it down.

When Eva’s twin brother, Eamon, falls to his death just a few months before he is due to participate in The Testing, no one expects Eva to take his place. She’s a Maiden, slated for embroidery classes, curtseys, and soon a prestigious marriage befitting the daughter of an Aerie ruler. But Eva insists on honoring her brother by becoming a Testor. After all, she wouldn’t be the first Maiden to Test, just the first in 150 years.

Eva knows the Testing is no dance class. Gallant Testors train for their entire lives to search icy wastelands for Relics: artifacts of the corrupt civilization that existed before The Healing drowned the world. Out in the Boundary Lands, Eva must rely on every moment of the lightning-quick training she received from Lukas—her servant, a Boundary native, and her closest friend now that Eamon is gone.

But there are threats in The Testing beyond what Lukas could have prepared her for. And no one could have imagined the danger Eva unleashes when she discovers a Relic that shakes the Aerie to its core.

Review

Relic has garnered a wide mix of reviews, but the disgruntled ones seem in large part to be the result of faulty marketing.  The publisher compares the book to A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games, and, frankly, Relic does not deliver the intense, richly developed story one would expect from such a comparison.   And, most confusing to me, the book is not at all fantasy. There is no magic, no alternate world, nothing to suggest this book is nothing more than another solid dystopian.  So, I can understand a lot of readers’ frustration.  However, if one can look past the marketing (or if one was blithely unaware in the first place), Relic is enjoyable in its own right.

The book is part dystopia, but also part survival story and part mystery.  There is even a smattering of romance, though protagonist Eva has a lot of other things to worry about now besides men.  Most like relationships will really develop in the following books, though readers get a few delicious hints.  In the meantime, the focus is on Eva’s journey taking her twin brother’s place in her society’s most honored and most dangerous competition: the Testing.

The Testing highlights Eva’s strengths as she competes against better-trained men to race across the icy wildness and find a relic from the world before the floods (or, as her people call it, the Healing).  Eva is brave and smart and a strong female lead in these chapters.  The book takes the time to discuss how she her role as the only Maiden in the Testing both helps and hinders her, as she experiences prejudice but is willing to play the game a little unorthodoxly.  Unfortunately, Eva accomplishes her tasks so easily that the competition does not seem that hard.  If a girl who never really bothered to train can do so well, what on earth is everyone else worried about?  I would have loved to see Eva accomplish more problems in the Testing and have more difficulty solving them.

The most interesting thing about Relic, then, may be the setting.  It is original in YA dystopian, set in New North, an island in the Artic.  The society lives in the Aerie, a walled-in city that strives the mimic the Middle Ages because the religious leaders teach that technology and the worship of the false God Apple led to the flood’s and the world’s cleansing.  It takes a while for the details of this all to settle, however, and the world building to really take shape.  Even then, there are still some questions, like how the new religion began since the founders of the Aerie would have been survivors of the flood and known they had nothing to do with the use of laptops and cellphones.  Hopefully more answers are forthcoming in book two.

Relic is solid book, one with clean writing a unique setting and characters.  It is not the most imaginative or chilling of dystopians, but it does offer readers a little something different—a medieval town in the Arctic where a conservatively raised Maiden begins to question the boundaries of her world.  Overall, a fun read.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The GiverInformation

Goodreads: The Giver
Series: The Giver Quartet #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 1993

Summary

In Jonas’s world, there is no choice.  Each life follows a predetermined path marked by various ceremonies, culminating in the assignation of jobs to each girl and boy at the age of twelve.  Jonas awaits his assignment with trepidation, only to learn that his life, for the first time, is about to diverge wildly from that of his peers.  He has been selected as the next Receiver, the vessel who holds the memories of the past and who alone knows true pleasure and true pain.  Jonas initially longs to discover the truth about his society, but he may find that some memories are too much bear alone.

Review

Every reading of The Giver is a powerful experience.  Even a knowledge of the plot cannot keep the story from seeming fresh, suspenseful, and relevant every time.  From the opening pages to the famous final scene, The Giver engages readers with a thought-provoking plot combined with a cast of sympathetic characters, whom it seems impossible not to consider friends.  By turns painful, uplifting, horrifying, and hopeful, The Giver is one of those books that will always stay with you.

Lois Lowry draws readers immediately into Jonas’s world, introducing a society that seems peaceful and even pleasant on the surface, if a little strictly regulated.  Hers may be the quintessential dystopia.  There are no obvious signs of decay and corruption, no overt tyrannical presence, no strange disappearances or evidence of oppression, not even bizarre rules that seem to scream out the citizens asking “Why, why do you live like this?”  An inattentive reader could easily miss the subtle signs of wrongness.  And it is brilliant.  One moment you are reading what seems to be a very sensible, even helpful conversation and the next you are realizing that, actually, the conversation is rather shallow and seems to contain gaps.  But blink for a moment and it’s gone.  For once, readers of a dystopia can understand why no one has ever rebelled against their society.

The ability for readers to enter Jonas’s world in such a way is what makes this dystopia truly scary.  Too often readers can easily dismiss the actions of characters, arguing that, of course, if they were in that situation, they assuredly would have put things right.  No one, after all, wants to think they could ever adopt mob mentality or even just wander thoughtlessly or lazily into a moral outrage.  But Jonas’s world seems not only innocuous but perhaps even desirable.  That image raises a host of other questions such as whether pain has value, whether people should have the freedom to choose even if that means choosing wrongly, and whether difference can actually be beneficial.  And, of course, the ultimate question of what love really is.

These general questions become pertinent to the readers through the individualized case of Jonas and the people he loves–the people he loves without questions even though some readers may not think they deserve it.  But that is the whole point.  Seeing through Jonas’s eyes, readers too can come to know his family and friends and to appreciate their good qualities even though their ignorance.  Love in this world is scarce, but once found, freely given.  Love could be no other.  And love is enough to set Jonas on a quest to help his family and friends, even if he will never know the outcome of his actions and even if he has to sacrifice everything.  It is beautiful, poignant, and ultimately ineffable.

Dystopias have become quite popular in recent years due to the success of The Hunger Games, but Lowry’s 1993 book still stands out, primarily because of Jonas’s conviction.  While other heroes often find themselves forced by their dystopian governments to take action or simply need three books’ worth of convincing to take a stand, Jonas, once he recognizes the problem, knows he has no choice but to fix it, and he never looks back.  Such moral courage seems increasingly rare, perhaps because some think it an unbelievable characteristic.  But Jonas is not meant to be merely believable but also inspiring.  His choice, his sacrifices make The Giver my favorite dystopian, even after all this time.

Eve by Anna Carey

EveInformation

Goodreads: Eve
Series: Eve #1
Source: Won at a YA event
Published: October 4, 2011

Official Summary

Sixteen years after a deadly virus wiped out most of Earth’s population, the world is a perilous place. Eighteen-year-old Eve has never been beyond the heavily guarded perimeter of her school, where she and two hundred other orphaned girls have been promised a future as the teachers and artists of the New America. But the night before graduation, Eve learns the shocking truth about her school’s real purpose and the horrifying fate that awaits her.

Fleeing the only home she’s ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Arden, her former rival from school, and Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust… and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.

Review

Eve opens with breath bated.  The senior girls at School are about to graduate, about to leave their gated community behind and enter the real world, where they will help the process of rebuilding in the wake of the Plague.  Or so they have been told.  One girl knows better, knows that when men want girls to “rebuild” they want them to breed, not paint or teach or research—and she wants no part of it.

When Eve learns this truth, she sets out on an unexpected adventure to avoid that stifling fate.  And this, strangely, is when the book gets less interesting.  Behind the walls of the School there are secrets and there is suspense and readers can still wonder at what awaits.  After those few scenes, the world-building, plot, and characterization stop progressing and simply leave readers wandering around a poorly developed romance set in an inexplicably half-apocalyptic wasteland.

The world-building in Eve is unsophisticated.  Readers know that the country was ravaged by some sort of Plague several years ago…and that is about it.  To start, the disease itself is never named, though it seems to bear some similarities to tuberculosis.  The country’s response to this Plague is even odder.  Children were rounded up and put into Schools like Eve’s.  They, now, are all orphans, but the children were collected before all their parents were dead so, theoretically, some should still have parents somewhere.  Practically everyone else is forced to live in a single city—a strange move for a nation that was just destroyed by a Plague, since people would probably want to live apart to avoid the spread of diseases.  The abandoned cities are all strewn with bones (no one collected them?) and houses are either full of supplies or already plundered, based on the needs of the plot.  Logic does not always reign in this book.

However, one almost wants to ask why Eve is a post-apocalyptic book at all, poor world-building or not.  The book does not ask a lot of questions about how the world got this way and how it can be avoided.  It does not ask a lot of questions about how humans survive and how they rebuild.  Mostly it’s a romance that just happens to take place in an “edgy” setting.

But it is not a particularly good romance either.  Eve suffers from something that is very close to instalove, even if she is skeptical at first.  (Her School is all-girls, so her experience with men is limited and biased.)  She also vacillates pretty easily between accepting unquestioningly the teachings of her School and dismissing them entirely, based on the needs of the plot.  I could get behind even a brainwashed character who thinks all men are pigs if she would simply stay brainwashed until personal experience and observation cured her!  Instead, however, Eve likes to think that her man is special and all other men are pigs…for no apparent reason.

Finally, I personally find Eve selfish and believe the book excuses her behavior.  Eve’s lack of experience in the real world is one factor, but it neither explains nor exonerates all the foolish actions she takes.  Yet Eve seems to be one of those books that preaches that any action is okay, no matter how stupid or dangerous, if it is done in the name of romantic love.  Will someone die because you have to have a romantic rendezvous with your boyfriend?  That’s a little sad, but ultimately a sacrifice worth making, because you love him.  Or so Eve implies.  I simply cannot get on board with that philosophy.

The start of Eve is promising, but the book never delivers.  It stumbles about a poorly-imagined post-apocalyptic setting mainly so it can wax on about the meaning of love and deliver a standard instalove romance.  There is one potential twist to the series, but I think I already know what it is, and frankly, am not interested enough to keep reading along to verify.  There are much stronger post-apocalyptic books on the market.