Apologies for the bad Game of Thrones knock-off quote, but honestly this book is derivative enough that it seems warranted. As the blurb on the front of the cover helpfully tells us, the series that this book is trying to capture the audience of is The Hunger Games. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I’ve come to enjoy this sub-genre of YA fic quite a bit. However, I’ve also read enough of it that I want to see something compelling done with it. This book doesn’t quite fit the bill.
I have a couple of problems with this book, one with the world building and one with the threat the main character.
The problem I have with the world building is this: the premise is laughable. Apparently there was a “Seven Stage War.” The first four stages were the humans destroying the fuck out of it: nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons and the like. Fine. No problem. The problem comes in the last three stages: “when the Earth fought back.” I’m serious, actual quote from the book . It’s so ridiculous that there’s another line in this book where the students are asking whether “the first Stage Five earthquake [plunged] the stage of California under water or was it the second?” EARTHQUAKES DON’T FUCKING WORK THAT WAY.
I’m completely on board with the we need to treat the planet we live on with more respect plan, but writing like this just makes the sane among us look silly. I will note that it doesn’t ruin the book because it’s mostly a back drop, but it did take me out of the story somewhat.
The bigger issue I had is a lack of context. For some inexplicable reason, candidates who are deemed unworthy are killed. Period. Most of the deaths are off screen (they leave the scene and never return) but the why they are killed isn’t explained. It’s supposed to be the big mystery and it’s the central question of the second book which has already been written. Not knowing why it’s going on and why the government is so secretive about it just makes the government seem stupid. The US has gone from a population of 300 million to maybe 300,000 thousand? (The largest colony is mentioned to be at 100,000 people) so why would you kill “the best and brightest?” It just doesn’t make sense.
This book was an easy read and a compelling read. If I spot Independent Study on the shelves next year, I’d probably pick it up. That said, there are still much better options in this sub-genre to read first.
Verdict: Borrow it