Tag Archives: Dystopian / Postapocalyptic

Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

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TheBoneSeasonThe Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury, 2013)

One of the great joys of being a reader is finding a book that incorporates familiar elements in a way that is completely original. The Bone Season is such a book.

Paige Mahoney lives in 2059 Scion London, where “voyants”—people with special mental abilities—are hunted down. Some are imprisoned, some are executed, and some are forced to join the security forces and use their powers to capture other voyants. Paige is part of an underworld group called the syndicate, which is kind of like a mafia protection racket: the voyants go to work for the syndicate, and the syndicate looks out for the voyants. Paige is the group’s “mollisher,” the second in command; and although she recognizes her powers are somewhat unusual, she doesn’t fully understand what they are and what their limits might be. One day, riding home on a subway, she has a run-in with the Scion security forces that changes her life forever: she’s captured and sent to a penal colony run by the Rephaim—an alien race who control the Scion—where voyants are the soldiers in the Rephaim war against their own enemies.

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. But Shannon has an incredibly deft hand at world-building: the descriptions of London and Sheol I, the prison, are richly layered and full of details. And it’s not just the places. The societies are also fully realized—the human world, where ESP is viewed as a potentially curable illness and people volunteer for “treatment”; the voyant underworld and the syndicate; and then the world of Sheol I—each with its own set of rules and hierarchies. All this information is presented in a way that is effortless for the reader. There’s no slogging through background information or paging through excessive description, and as a reader I never got the sense that I was being given more information or detail than I needed.

Paige is an engaging and incredibly frustrating character. She’s smart, she’s passionate, and she’s intensely loyal, which means that she makes a lot of decisions that an outsider can instantly identify as bad ones, but that Paige is going to make every time because that’s who she is. Paige is also endlessly curious, and at Sheol I she’s got a lot to explore: the prison itself; the Rephaim; her own powers, which she is beginning to realize are even more unusual and special than she ever imagined; and her relationships within the prison. Her master is a Rephaim called Warden, who manages to be simultaneously cruel and sympathetic. The relationship between Paige and Warden is very well drawn; Paige, so slow to trust but so incredibly loyal, doesn’t know what to do with this Rephaim whose motives are so unclear—is he trying to help her or destroy her?

To sum up: I loved this book. It’s richly layered, complex, and compelling. I plan on re-reading it when the sequel is published because I know there’s more under the surface that I’ve missed.

The Bone Season is the first book in a planned series of seven by debut author Samantha Shannon.  Apparently Andy Serkis has already optioned the film rights; if so, I hope this book makes it to the screen, because it has the potential to be amazing in a visual medium.

 

This book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 5 stars

Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

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The5thWaveThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013)

Blurb: After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

 

I have a confession to make: I love postapocalyptic and/or dystopian novels. Always have done. From Brave New World to We to A Canticle for Liebowitz, to The Stand and The Passage, and on up through Divergent and Gone and The Hunger Games, I love ’em all. Yes, they have certain similarities. Yes, they might indicate a certain cynicism in my attitude toward humanity’s future. But for the most part, these books highlight things I like in my books: sympathetic characters, engaging plots, and a look at the question of what it means to be human.

The 5th Wave does have certain elements that have become clichés in YA dystopian/postapocalyptic fiction: the destruction of society as we know it; the virtual elimination of the adult population; the strong female lead character who’s been taken from her loved ones and has to fight her way back; the hint of romance with a boy she doesn’t necessarily trust. This book, like many others in the genre, is about survivors—what it takes to survive and the toll it takes, both on individuals and on humanity as a whole. But that’s OK, because these are themes I happen to enjoy. A formula isn’t a problem if a writer finds a new and unique way of presenting it, and for me, The 5th Wave is a prime example of that.

By shifting POV between the main characters, Yancey is able to keep the reader unsettled and just a little bit confused about what’s going on—much as the characters themselves must be. There’s a lot of action, but there’s also a lot of waiting, but because the book is character-driven the slow parts don’t bog down the overall pace. The focus is on the characters: on Cassie and her search for her little brother Sammy; on Evan, who may or may not be her savior; and on Ben Parish and his band of fighters.

A lot of reviews on The 5th Wave have focused on the hype around it (it was being called “the next Hunger Games”). I don’t know or care if it’s going to be the next big thing. To me, The 5th Wave was a well-crafted story about the invasion of the planet, and what a kick-ass heroine will do to save her loved ones in the aftermath. I think this is the first in a series, but I enjoyed it as a stand-alone.

 

My rating: 4 stars

Review: Hunger by Michael Grant

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HungerHunger by Michael Grant (Egmont UK, 2010)

 

Blurb: It’s been three months since everyone under the age of fifteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ. Things have only gotten worse. Food is running out, and each day more kids are developing supernatural abilities. Soon tension rises between those with powers and those without, and when an unspeakable tragedy occurs, chaos erupts. It’s the normals against the mutants, and the battle promises to turn bloody.
But something more dangerous lurks. A sinister creature known as the Darkness has begun to call to the survivors in the FAYZ. It needs their powers to sustain its own. When the Darkness calls, someone will answer–with deadly results.

 

I’m still enjoying this series. The characters are interesting and the problems are real–a bunch of kids living in a world with no adults, cut off from the rest of the world and dealing with sudden new powers and inequalities is not going to be a happy place. It’s a setup that’s perfect for exploring conflict.

One of the things I continue to enjoy about these books is the realism of the kids’ plight: They would run out of food. And they wouldn’t necessarily understand why that is and what to do about it. Also, the breakneck pacing that made the first book so exciting continues here. There’s a lot of action, and while there are instances of downtime, they’re more of the “eye of the hurricane” variety rather than slow interludes that bog down the action.

For a plot-driven book, the characters have a lot of depth and vulnerability. They’re all individuals, most of them with their own motives and ambitions, although alliances do form, and break, and re-form. I was worried that I’d lose track of who was who, but they are unique, so it’s not a problem.

As the series continues, the lines continue to blur between good guys and bad guys, and right and wrong. I’m very happy I waited until this year to start reading, because I’ve got all the books and don’t have to endure a long wait between installments!

My rating: 4 stars

Review: Gone by Michael Grant

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GoneGone by Michael Grant (Egmont, 2009).

 

Blurb: In the blink of an eye. Everyone disappears. GONE.

 

Except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not one single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened.

 

Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.

 

It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else…

 

I came into this series very late—I hadn’t even heard of it but saw the books in a shop and was immediately drawn to the neon-and-black covers. The edges of the pages are the same color as the book title, so these are gorgeous all set up together in a shop display. The praise page included a quote from Stephen King, so I bought the five books that were then available.

 

The premise of the book intrigued me. I’ve always enjoyed “the adults are gone now what” stories, starting with Lord of the Flies. While this book has some similarities, it’s also very different. Having supernatural elements—special powers, the way in which the adults vanished—distinguishes it immediately and allows a whole other dimension of relationships and power inequalities to the kids’ society.

 

Sam is a good primary character. I’ve always liked reluctant heroes, especially when there’s a good villain for him to go up against—and in this book, there definitely is. Caine is the leader of the students from the exclusive private school on the hill, who immediately set themselves up as challengers to Sam and his “townie” classmates. Astrid, as Sam’s friend and confidante, manages to be wonderful and intelligent without being superior or annoying. In fact, I liked almost all of the characters, and I liked that they had distinct personalities and reacted in different ways to the events around them. Sometimes I was frustrated with them, but much of that is due to my being out of the target demographic. I would have loved these characters when I was a teenager.

 

The action moves quickly, and it’s well-paced. The book is some 500 pages, but the tension crackles from beginning to end and I didn’t think it ever got bogged down in detail or description or explanation. I finished the book and was very happy to have the next one—I wanted to find out what happened!

 

My rating: 4 stars

Exodus by Julie Bertagna

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ExodusExodus by Julie Bertagna (Pan MacMillan, 2003)

Blurb: Mara’s island home is drowning as the ice caps melt and Earth loses its land to the ocean. But one night, in the ruined virtual world of the Weave, Mara meets the mysterious Fox a fiery-eyed boy who tells her of sky cities that rise from the sea.

Mara sets sail on a daring journey to find a new life for herself and her friends – instead she discovers a love that threatens to tear her apart.

I’m not entirely certain how I want to rate this book. I love dystopian novels, and the world building in this one was very well done. Unlike Hunger Games or Divergent, the focus here was on the earth itself and not so much on a repressive society or government; the polar ice caps have melted, most of the land is gone, and a teenage girl struggles to save her friends and family when their island is swallowed up. I enjoyed this in the way I enjoyed Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy: not as much action, more introspection and interaction. But I enjoy slower-paced books sometimes, so the relative lack of action didn’t bother me as much as it might have done. I’m looking forward to the next two books.

My rating: 4 stars