I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this book, and how much it subverted the paradigms it is a part of. I bought it because the great faith I haveI was blown away by how much I enjoyed this book, and how much it subverted the paradigms it is a part of. I bought it because the great faith I have in Sherwood Smith to be surprising and insightful in her depiction of teenagers. I kept reading it because it was relentlessly enjoyable -- fast-paced, humane, thrilling, and tender.
It would be easy to write this off as another HungerMazeRunnerDystopiana. It's not. It is about the difficulty of being a part of a community, and heroing that involves educating kids and recycling and research librarianship and amazing interdependence.
When I say a book is humane, I don't mean that it is free of cruelty (this one is not) or is prone to philosophical wanking (not so much); I mean that it is full of characters and situations that I recognize -- no one is an untouchable superhero, the stakes are not galactic, the fate of the world is not in the balance. I like all sorts of books, but I appreciate the unique courage it takes to write one that is not about starting a civil war, but rather a new business.
There are lots of other things that delighted me -- the sense of economics, the multicultural community (and their FOOD), the way characters didn't instantly overcome trauma, or all handle it the same way. The clothes, the worldbuilding, and the characters -- everything said that this was a book that had been thoughtfully constructed, but I didn't think of that until after I'd finished reading it in a day.
There's a love triangle. It's very sweet, and I give it two thumbs up, and yes, you can still let kids read this book. The overall level of sexiness is very low.
Overall, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone, and in fact, I'm nominating it for a Hugo. It is exactly what I want to see more of in the world.
Read if: You'd like to read about the post-post apocalypse, and how humanity has rebuilt. You're interested in the culture that does and does not get perpetuated.
Skip if: You can't handle teenagers dying in combat. It's not super gory, but there is a pitched battle.
Also read: Circus of Brass and Bone, for a community of mutants. A Stranger to Command, for sheer awesomeness. Flora's Dare for another satisfying retort to the love triangle....more
Hmm. This was an interesting book. There were several things to like about it. Atlanta Burns, herself, is a nicely-balanced character with strengths aHmm. This was an interesting book. There were several things to like about it. Atlanta Burns, herself, is a nicely-balanced character with strengths and weaknesses like any other person. She has an animating hatred of people preying on the weak, a legitimate beef against guys touching her, and a pottymouth. But she also has had almost all the softness burned out of her, because even as the book progresses, she doesn't so much have friends as sidekicks. It's like she can't bring herself to fully trust anyone, which is both in-character and a major weakness for her. I also liked the depiction of "Pennsultucky". It rang true to me, as a person who came from another redneck part of the country.
Many of the things that frustrated Atlanta frustrated me, too. Her mother's ineffectiveness was a leading cause of hair-pulling on my part.
There is harm to animals. Atlanta is like what would happen to Encyclopedia Brown if he never had cause to believe in adults. So it is no surprise that she takes on a dog-fighting ring. But in order for you to see how bad it is, you get a lot of dog fighting and the consequences thereof. There is harm to people. There is bullying and suicide(?) and a raft of abusive adults.
I think all these elements could have been combined in a way that got more stars from me. They are solid in their own right, or at least not dealbreakers. The thing that was a dealbreaker for me was that Atlanta only felt like a consensual actor about a quarter of a time. She thinks about walking away, but her feet stay glued. She knows she should stand her ground, but finds herself attacking people. Effectively, she has the impulse control of a toddler. Only toward the end does she decide to act, formulate a plan, and follow through on it, and even then she finds herself running without meaning to. I felt that trope in this book really undermined Atlanta's genuine courage and big-heartedness. It smacked unpleasantly of those old-school romance novels where He forces a kiss on Her, and she just melts in his arms. It is without volition. I wanted to read about a girl with volition, not just reaction.
Read if: You want to read a semi-sympathetic version of rural Pennsylvania. You like feisty, potty-mouthed redheads. Violence and vengeance as solutions are narrative kinks for you.
Skip if: You can't take hard to animals, realistic depictions of bullying and suicide, or your hero maiming people.
Read instead: Wen Spencer's Alien Taste.
Oh, an as a person who lives with someone who uses Adderall as prescribed, I really wish it had not been the drug choice for Atlanta's abuse. It makes it harder for the people who really need it....more
I hated it. HAAAAATED. It's a personal response, and says nothing about the actual quality of the book, but the whole poThis book was nicely written.
I hated it. HAAAAATED. It's a personal response, and says nothing about the actual quality of the book, but the whole point of the story was revenge, and the pettiness of human hearts. Also, the dog dies.
The girl with the face of the moon (who remains a nearly-nameless girl throughout the whole book, despite the fact that she was a bare minimum of 36 by the bloody end) has a miserable peasanty life, with miserable parents. Wordlessly, she runs away with a guy who smells like bears. They are very happy building a life that smells like bears and they have a baby, and they love him, and if the book had been about that, I would have loved the heck out of it, as sort of a Japanese My Side of the Mountain.
Sadly, that does not generate sufficient drama.
See, there is also an evil inbred ninja in the picture. Because he's evil, that's why. He's very very evil. Also a rapist and kidnapper. And evil.
You can see where this is going.
There is a gorefest which I cannot recommend that ANY of my friends read. TGWTFOTM is left blinded and bent on vengeance. She spends the next six years acquiring DIFFERENT, GOOD ninja skills from a variety of places. While being bent on vengeance.
I could tell you more about it, but I hope you only read this if you have what I identify as a really masculine obsession with revenge and honor. I'm not against either of those themes, but it's a lot like Gladiator. Revenge and honor are interesting, but not sufficient to actually define a character. Nor is suffering.
Read if: You really wish there were a book version of Lone Wolf and Cub, only with less humor and more gobbets of flesh (yes, more). Also, at least Cub was a pretty happy kid. We cannot say that for the unnamed child in this book. Um, you might also appreciate some of the research that's gone into this, but really, there are better books for that.
Skip if: Really, I would just skip it. The dog and the child both get tortured. The woman doesn't even really get a name or internal life.
Read instead: Ôoku, a really excellent Japanese graphic novel....more
One of the most mesmerizing parts of watching a circus is that everything is always in motion, falling or rising, and there is no still place to restOne of the most mesmerizing parts of watching a circus is that everything is always in motion, falling or rising, and there is no still place to rest your eyes and untangle how the magic is working. This book is something like that.
There is a vast cast of viewpoint characters, and I think at least one narrator is completely undescribed and unnamed, but I'm not entirely sure about that. It would be easy, with so many moving parts, for it to seem chaotic, but the author manages to exert enough control that the transitions make sense and keep the story going without making me feel entirely confused.
It's tricky to have viewpoint characters reveal secrets about themselves halfway through the book without feeling like you've been lied to, but Ginger and the psychic manage it particularly well, and each narrative voice is distinct enough that it blends together.
One of the things I particularly liked was the slow reveal on the third wave of death that was just kicking off as the book ended. It made you feel like there might be a sequel, or you might have to imagine the sequel yourself. There were also some particularly happy turns of phrase, like, "All killing a Pinkerton gets you is another, angrier Pinkerton." and "Blood coated her arms from her fingertips up past her elbows, as if she wore sanguinary opera gloves."
I did feel like there was some choppiness in the transition between the places the circus stopped, but that is probably an artifact of books that travel in place and time. It's hard to do those without wondering what happened in the last city. I also really did finish the book thinking "and then what"? in the way that I am accustomed to feeling when I am reading a series. Everything was about to go to hell in a handbasket, ala Empire Strikes Back.
Disclaimer: I was given an advance review copy.
Read if: You would love to read about circus freaks, espionage, war elephant golems, intrepid female ship captains, monkeys finding true love, and the authentic smells of large cities.
Skip if: You do not like gory. This book is gory. A guy gets decapitated by a bath faucet and boiled in his tub. A crystal factory full of women and children gets blown up. Monsters.
Also read: The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. Dead Reckoning, by Mercedes Lackey....more