on September 22nd 2015
Genres: young adult, dystopia
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A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace - sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals - are raised together in small, isolated schools called Preceptures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.
Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Precepture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace, even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.
Enter Elián Palnik, the Precepture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Precepture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.
What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?
Yes, the dystopia genre is a dead horse, and publishing is still happily flogging it in hopes to ensnare a few more readers into the worn out genre. Once a popular trope or theme crops up, it tends to stay around for a while. (Just go look at, Velvet, aka Dead Twilight Horse). I love me a good dystopia novel, but they’re starting to all run together. Dystopia novels are like Twinkies – I remember them as being better in the past. I still have fond memories of The Hunger Games and Not a Drop to Drink. I still push the Vampire Empire series onto others. There are still good dystopian books. Look at Ready Player One. However, that book was good because the author tried something new and fresh. The formula was discarded and a new angle was used instead the same old tired outline.
So is the Age of Dystopias at an end? Have we milked it for all that it was worth? Are the older genre novels never going to be surpassed, or even challenged?
Well, if we see more books such as The Scorpion Rules, then the genre might have a chance and age gracefully.
First of all, ignore that moronic blurb. Evil robot overlord, future girl leader, new boy, change their fates, so on and so on. I was distastefully eyeing some of the other reviews that kept stating that the reader was in for a shock? Seriously? Look at that description. You could exchange out the names and the leader and you could describe 99% of the post-apocalyptic books on the shelf in the stores today.
However, I am adding my voice to that mix: It isn’t like the others. I mean it.
The story draws you in from the start: the set up for the “after world” is beautiful. The author adopted the medieval idea of royal hostages and upgraded it for a future tense, to prevent war between countries. It worked. It made sense. I could see this happening. I believed it. That right there is the biggest stepping stone for setting up a great dystopia: could this ever happen? My answer to this is a clear, “Hell, yeah!”
Next, we have a character that I quite enjoyed leading us through the story. Greta is smart and obedient. She has accepted that she is going to more than likely die, since her family has a firm hold on a precious, limited resource. No, not oil, or land, or even precious metals. The countries are fighting over water. In an attempt to correct the past mistakes, society has taken a step backwards and stopped using mechanical and oil-dependent technology. Farming, walking, gardening and water conservation are firmly exercised. The children hostages learn to provide for their school, attend classes to learn about previous wars, and mentally prepare themselves to die at any moment. The setting is so vivid that is almost becomes tangible. Right there is the next brick in the foundation: How can humanity still survive? They survive because they shrug off the conveniences of their ancestors.
The mood of the novel is depressing and serious, to say the least. This one reads very much like a classic book. But the author doesn’t let her story become stale and stiff. In comes Talis, the horrible dark heart of the novel.
While the book could have stood on its own, there is very little doubt that he made the novel stand out and added a little “shine” to the plot. While the language and the attitudes of the novel are proper, serious and dark, Talis comes crashing in, from the very first chapter of the book, to lighten the mood, while futher highlighting the brutality of this depressing new world. At first, I was a little put off by his casual, snarky attitude. It was a bit unnerving. But then I took a step back and analysed why his atttide was radically different than the others. At this time and age, sarcasm and humor is the top linguistic currency. Wisecracks and humor pepper our everyday language, our media, and our writing. If you are writing about the future, then today’s culture would reflect this attitude. Talis is a production of now. In the book’s timeline, he is the past. What would be modern to us is history in the novel. After I made the connection, it dawned on me how brilliant and forward this approach was in the book.
But Talis’ carefree attitude and sharp, funny demeanor doesn’t dismiss him as a danger. This AI is one sick asshole under the charming exterior. His words and his demeaonor were hilarious, but his actions were cruel and carried a warning. His complexity was the embodiment of the culture of the novel. This is a dark, deadly chapter in the human history books. The AI is here to save us from ourselves, and if we can’t solve the problem, then his blood-soaked hands will reach in and resolve it, and no one wins if he has to step in.
Lastly, you have to read it for nothing else than the guts of this book. The romance doesn’t resolve like you would think it would. The ending took me by complete shock. No fluffy, happy endings here. Greta is pushed into a no-win situation, and there is no convenient, deus ex machina to save the day. I believe I told one person, “This book makes Mockingjay almost look like a nursery rhyme!” (Yes, I do like Mockingjay, so this is in no way an insult to the final book of the Hunger Games series).
There was one very small part of the book that made me scoff and grit my teeth, and some of the ending felt rushed (therefore, just 4 stars here), but overall, I quite enjoyed the horribly brutal and unhappy ending. The author stuck to her guns until the end, and it paid off. Hell, there are sexually fluid characters in the novel, and it isn’t treated with a parade and a banner stating “DIVERSITY!” It is folded in and woven into the very threads of the world building.
I recommend this novel for so many reasons. First of all, it is proof that we can still have some wonderful ideas fueling the plot. Second, the two completely clashing tones of the novel are going to keep you running towards the end. You’re not going to want to put this one down until you are done. If nothing else, this book is an instant winner due to the two completely different voices of the novel. I can say this is one of my favorite characteristic studies in a YA setting.
I highly recommend this book. I’m going to suggest this one like crazy. You’re going to have to read it.
This isn’t a story of revolt, this is a lesson in choices, and even if you have to chose between two very bad decisions, it is the freedom of choice that makes the sacrifice worth it all.