Good Reads #55 – Allegiant (Spoiler-Free)

When I first sat down to write my review of Allegiant, I was well on my way to over 750 words of why this book didn’t do it for me. It was a full on rant. But while I was showering last night, and processing everything – both what I had read and what I had written, I realized that while my complaints are still valid, they were also emblematic of something else:

I’m (temporarily) burning out on young adult fiction, I could say it’s just against the dystopian sub-genre, but frankly these are issues that often turn up in fantasy and other YA sub-genres as well.

Most of my grievances against this book are problems I have with the as a whole: the cliché of it all being a government plot; the grossly over-simplified science with the tinge of Eugenics that drives the entire plot along (murder gene, really?) the enforced notion of a black and white morality even when hints of a story that wants to be more nuanced peek through and finally an ending that while definitely brave on the part of the author (I will give her a standing ovation for having the balls to do what she did; the story called for it and anything else would have been a cop out) still manages to slide into optimism for the future. Can’t we have ONE novel where things might not actually improve?

The one complaint I will keep from that first draft is over point-of-view switching. The author stated she did so because she needed to do so to tell the story she wanted to tell. When an author changes the way she did it tells me that they couldn’t make their story work and you can’t convince me otherwise. I don’t think we gained much from the story being told the way that it was: first person is by definition a limited view point. If she wanted to give us insight into Four, either keep it in the short stories or she should have written the books in 3rd person omniscient instead. I see the change as necessary later on, but she could have pulled a J.K. Rowling and changed when absolutely necessary instead. It would have been more impactful. As it was, the two voices were so similar and they were interacting with most of the same people so it wasn’t always easy to keep things straight.

So after all that…can I recommend the book?

Personally, I’d be lying if I said this was anything other than a Skip It. But, in the interest of fairness I do recognize that I might be more biased than normal due to my burnout. So instead, I will give it a conditional Borrow It. Those reading the book for FourTris will probably enjoy it. If you were reading it for the world building or if you get annoyed by same kind of things I do, then you may or may not.

The series as a whole I will leave as a Borrow It and take on a book by book basis. Ultimately, like Hunger Games, I think the first book was the strongest. On the whole, I think that (despite my issues with that series) that it’s also the stronger series so newbies to the dystopian subgenre should start there first. Readers looking for more interesting fare should probably look for adult titles.

Good Reads #42: The Testing

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You pass or you die when chosen for The Testing

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

Good Reads #32: The Maze Runner

ImageThis is one of those books where what you see is what you get. The premise is straight forward, delivered in a straightforward way, and the ending is absolutely expected.

The premise here is that our protagonist Thomas wakes up in an elevator not knowing who he is (beyond his name) or why he is in said elevator. The elevator dumps him off in “The Glade” a small colony made up of about 50 boys or so that live in this glade surrounded by a large maze. The one who run it, “The Creators” send them supplies once a week and they have running water and electricity which they use to run a full fledged farm while Runners go into the maze trying to solve it (but never doing so). His arrival throws the colony into chaos as some have vague senses that they know who he is and is somehow evil, and even beyond that the next day a girl arrives stating she is the last one. The thrust of the book, of course, is trying to find a way out and figure out who “The Creators” are.

Honestly, in a premise like this you don’t have too many scenarios for who could be responsible: usually some kind of government or private corporation or something along those lines. I won’t spoil who did it or why, but you won’t be terribly shocked by the ending.

As for characterization: the kids…they’re there. They aren’t total cardboard cutouts, though I wouldn’t say they’re much beyond that either. Thomas feels an affinity for another character named Chuck and I never got the sense that that affinity was earned, that it’s there because it wanted to show Thomas was human and a good guy at heart (which is relevant plot wise).

As for the lone female character Teresa, I still don’t get why she had to be female or have the gift she had. The entire colony was male, and there was nothing about what she did that made her have to be female. The only conclusion I can come to is that he intends for a romance in one of the later books. The gift that she and Thomas share remain unexplained by the end of the book causing it to ultimately feel like a Deus Ex Machina device.

Finally, the author decided that he wanted to swear. But this is a young adult novel where such things are frowned upon so instead of shit you have “klunk” (the sound it makes when it hits the water) and instead of fuck you have “shuck.” It’s freaking distracting. More distracting than had he just used the words that he clearly wanted to. There are a few other slang words sprinkled in, so you could make the argument that he was trying to show that the boys had developed their own language, but I stand by my original assessment.

At the end of the day, this book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t remarkable or particularly memorable either. I wasn’t in a rush to pick it back up, but when I did I finished it easily. It’s just I won’t be going after the other books in the series.

If the premise intrigues you and you’ve got nothing else going on it might be worth a look.

Verdict: Borrow it.

Good Reads #31: The Elite

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Generally speaking, whenever I read a book I try to write two reviews – one for the site and one for Good Reads, because I know that I use readers reviews when looking for a new book to read and reviews speak much louder than ratings which can be arbitrary.

This time though, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, oddly enough I didn’t want to be unfair to this book. And having read this the morning after finishing The Wise Man’s Fear, I can’t help but shake the feeling that I would be unfair because after reading that book, the weightlessness of this one becomes all the more apparent.

To be fair; this series was never intended to be anything deep or meaningful. It’s The Bachelor meets any number of YA titles of a post-Apocalyptic America where Prince Maxon’s wooing of the ladies of the Selection is used as an opiate of the masses to keep them all compliant. The first book was light and frothy, but the protagonist America was smart and fiery. Here, she seems to take a step backwards. She keeps telling Maxon that she doesn’t know if she returns his love, yet keeps getting jealous every time he spends time with another girl. She sees one of the Elite get caned and thrown from the Selection to the ranks of the Casteless for making out with a palace guard, and yet still seems to carry on an affaire de ceour that she’s not even realizing is such with a guard from her own past.

Towards the end of the book there are signs that the America I enjoyed the first time around is coming back, and I hope that is the case. I’m still planning on reading the final book when it gets released next year, but next time I’m going to be more careful with my timing. This series is still perfect beach reading, it just doesn’t hold up well when you pair it with something so dense and rich like one one of the best high fantasy series of the past twenty years.

Verdict: Borrow it.