One of the squares on the #ReadHarder bingo card is guilty pleasure, and this definitely fits the bill for me. I suppose everyone has a different defiOne of the squares on the #ReadHarder bingo card is guilty pleasure, and this definitely fits the bill for me. I suppose everyone has a different definition of the concept, to me it's not about reading something I'm embarrassed about -- I read all kinds of ridiculous YA. It's more like...hate watching? Like, you're pretty sure it's going to be terrible, and possibly rage inducing, but you just can't stop yourself from wanting to know what happens. I've had that feeling about all of Rebecca Serle's books so far, and yet I just can't seem to quit them!
To be fair, this one isn't at all rage inducing (I'm pretty sure I will never get over how she absolutely mangled Romeo & Juliet). Like I said in the updates, it's basically just wish fulfillment. What high school theatre kid hasn't dreamed about being plucked from obscurity to star in an amazing movie, moving to Hawaii to shoot, being romanced by their gorgeous costar? Fourteen year old me would have eaten this series up! But it also sort of reads like fan fiction. The three leads are all essentially stock characters: the plain Jane girl who is secretly amazing and beautiful, the kind and gorgeous boy who's safe and sweet, and the bad boy with the tragic past (bonus points for a feud between the boys for extra angst). It's a standard issue love triangle: who will she choose? Which, as I have said about so many other books, is one of the least compelling questions ever.
There's not much more in the way of character development here, and you can see any and all twists coming from a mile away. And also a frustrating amount of telling over showing -- minus the kissing scenes, of course, we keep jumping days and weeks ahead in time and Paige simply tells what happened. It's a little like the whole plot is just a way to string together scenes where two characters make out, and then Paige thinks about it for a while. It's not terrible, and thankfully she's calmed down with the slut-shaming (in fact I'm not sure the word ever even comes up!). It's also not great. But it's cold and gross and I am so tired of snow that I could scream, so it was fun to spend a day in Hawaii with our bland, inoffensive protagonist.
(And yes, I will most likely read the sequel. Why can't I quit you, Serle?)...more
This is another book that's best read quickly, without tons of time for reflection. Although I confess I plowed through as quickly as I did because myThis is another book that's best read quickly, without tons of time for reflection. Although I confess I plowed through as quickly as I did because my hold on Golden Son came up and I was dying to start it. However, I stand by my assessment: read this in as few sittings as possible. Once you start thinking about it, you realize 1) there are some plot holes, and 2) nothing much happens here. This be a bridge book.
I read Name of the Star about 2 years ago, and thankfully my own review refreshed my memory! I enjoyed the story (I was in a Jack the Ripper phase at the time), and found the premise interesting: teenaged ghost hunter at boarding school in London? Sign me up!
Here, Rory's still recovering from her attack. I had sort of forgotten most of what happened at the end, although I did call the whole "human terminus" angle (which, thankfully, is revealed on the cover flap). Anyway, Rory's psychologist suggests she return to school and try to resume her normal life. The only problem: she's missed 3 weeks of the term and hasn't done any work to keep up. And even once she's back at Wexford, Rory's more concerned about contacting the rest of the Shades, figuring out what terrible consequences her battle with Newman must have had (especially since there was another murder not long after Rory's attack).
The problem, as many reviewers have pointed out, is that much of this book consists of moping. Rory mopes about not going back to school, then she's able to go back so she mopes about being behind (but doesn't DO anything about it, arg), then she mopes about being kept in the dark by Stephen et al...it's just frustrating. I really wanted to know more about the whole Shades operation. Are those 3 people really the only ones left? Are there squads all over Europe? And also, how exactly does one become a ghost in this world? I'd forgotten about Newman's theory that you could...force? that transition if you died holding a terminus, and I feel like that's going to be explored in the next book. But I wish Johnson would stop just doling out teeny pieces of information. Figure out the rules and then explain them, dammit! It seems like we're going with the standard, cultural "unfinished business" definition, which...snooze. I love Gail Carriger's rules regarding ghosts: anyone with "excess soul," (anyone who could have become a supernatural creature, in other words) becomes a ghost as long as their body is preserved. As the body starts to decay, the ghost starts to go nuts and get more violent. Which here, could account for the fact that some ghosts seem bent on destruction, while others just want to mope.
Anyway, somewhere around the 200 page mark, we finally have some complications, but it turns out to all be setup for the next book. Sigh. (view spoiler)[although it still doesn't answer my question about ghost police squads, turns out lots of other people can see ghosts. Rory inadvertently falls into a cult of sorts (one of her hall mates sets her up with a therapist, who turns out to be the leader of said cult). They just want to defeat death, NBD. And since Rory's the only human terminus, they kind of need her. It's unclear what they plan to do with Rory, or how this whole "defeat death" plan actually works. Presumably, we'll (sing it if you know the words) find out in the next book. (hide spoiler)]
This wasn't terrible, and since it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, I certainly want to read the next one. I also really love the narrative voice here. Rory, though mopey, is still funny and sarcastic, lending some much needed levity to what could be a depressing story. It was the ending that made me roll my eyes, however. (view spoiler)[ Suddenly I'm supposed to be invested in Stephen as a love interest? I mean, it's sad he died and all, but I feel like it would have had more impact if we'd seen Rory mourning him as a friend and mentor, not as a potential boyfriend. The kiss felt like a cheap ploy to inject some unearned emotional gravitas. Not buying it. And now he's going to come back as a ghost and be all mopey, and Rory will agonize about not being able to touch him, and eventually there will be some confession of true love and she'll have to send him to the great beyond, or whatever. Blah. Not looking forward to that inevitable scene. (hide spoiler)]
How many books is this series supposed to have? It feels like one that could go on for ages, not necessarily a trilogy. Here's hoping the next volume features some more action and less moping. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Ah yes, the next next Gone Girl (reminds me of that episode of Friends, where Joey's movie was directed by the next next Martin Scorsese). It does shaAh yes, the next next Gone Girl (reminds me of that episode of Friends, where Joey's movie was directed by the next next Martin Scorsese). It does share some plot DNA and the comparisons are inevitable, but it reminded me more of something by Liane Moriarty than Gillian Flynn.
The titular girl is Rachel, who rides into London every day, and has invented a fantasy life for the perfectly adorable, happy couple she sees from the train each morning. Christening them Jess and Jason, she invents a complete history and convinces herself that she knows them. When one day she sees Jess outside kissing a man who is NOT Jason, she feels betrayed on his behalf. Worse still, the next day, Jess goes missing, and Rachel is convinced that she is the only person who can help the police. Jess must have been having an affair, and now the boyfriend has done something terrible. Here's the problem: Rachel's an alcoholic and it becomes increasingly clear that her grasp on reality (and memory) is tenuous at best. She may truly know something useful, but she's such a mess that no one can believe her, even though she's sure something awful happened to her the same night Jess disappeared. Could Rachel have been responsible?
Then we meet Jess...whose name is Megan, and whose life is nowhere near as perfect as Rachel assumed from afar. She's quite reminiscent of Amy Dunne, and husband Scott (not Jason) is equally reminiscent of Nick. The investigation into Megan's disappearance even runs along the same lines, at first. (view spoiler)[Once her body turns up in the woods, the story takes a turn. Also, Rachel makes the spectacularly bad decision to get involved in Scott's life, attempting to help him get to the bottom of Megan's murder. And although he does turn out to be innocent of her murder, he's still a terrible, abusive bastard. (hide spoiler)]
A further complication here is the fact that Rachel's ex husband and his new wife (former mistress) live just a few doors down from Megan and Scott. Anna's a real piece of work. She's the character who tipped the scales toward Moriarty, style wise. Although I cannot remember wanting to smack a character more since fucking Kate from The Engagements. Anna is just SO proud of herself. She was the mistress, and there's a certain amount of power in that position. She loves the idea of being the woman Tom couldn't resist, and loves it even more that she got the prize. She has the perfect little life she's always wanted, if only stupid, fat Rachel would stop bothering her wonderful perfect husband. I had a really hard time feeling sorry for her, in the end. (view spoiler)[ It's very telling that what pisses her off most is not that Tom killed Megan, but that he was having an affair. Which...given how she and Tom got together really shouldn't be a surprise. She knows he's capable of being unfaithful, but she's deluded herself into thinking that she's such a special snowflake that he'd never cheat on HER. Ugh. You deserve what you get. (hide spoiler)]
Don't get me wrong, Rachel's no prize either. I found it incredibly hard to read about her relapsing over and over again. I just wanted her to be sober and get her shit together, because she just kept fucking things up for herself.
Megan, for her part, is just so damaged. We get some of her backstory through her therapy sessions with Dr. MacGuffin....er, Kamal. She ran away as a teenager and lived with a much older guy who was a drug dealer, (view spoiler)[got pregnant, and ended up accidentally killing her baby when she fell asleep holding her in the bathtub. The boyfriend walked out not long after, and Megan reinvented herself, which is how she met Scott. Who, again, is abusive and controlling, but she doesn't see that because she's so desperate for security. Clearly we're supposed to think the mystery man is her doctor, but it was clear to me from nearly the beginning that it was Tom, so that final reveal lacked some punch. Although I did not see it coming that he was a total sociopath. True, Rachel was a mess, but he took advantage of her blackouts and pretended she was violent. (hide spoiler)] Anyway, Megan's probably the most sympathetic character of this lot, but no one here is particularly likable.
Ultimately, this is a super compelling, fast read. The shifting perspectives helps keep you guessing, and the pace is pretty relentless. It's not perfect, and it's unfortunately easy to guess the twist, but that didn't stop me from plowing through the last 40 or so percent in a single sitting after work today! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Holy shit. I have no words. This book. I don’t even know where to start. Every time I’m so smug and so sure I have this series figured out, Brown justHoly shit. I have no words. This book. I don’t even know where to start. Every time I’m so smug and so sure I have this series figured out, Brown just upends everything in the most devastating fashion. It’s like he attended the George R.R. Martin school of writing. Speaking of which, this book totally fills a Game of Thrones shaped hole in my life. And given that it’s a trilogy, I’m likely to see the end of it before the author dies! I also may have pre-ordered Morning Star about four seconds after closing this book.
This is the second book of a trilogy, but it is in no way a bridge book. Authors take note: THIS is how you write a trilogy! At first I was a little miffed that apparently Darrow did all of this training with Lorn, and went to, like, Golden College or whatever, all off-page. But we don’t need to see all of that, because there’s so much else happening. Instead of picking up where Red Rising ended (with Darrow agreeing to work for Augustus), we jump two years into the future, with Darrow at the Academy (which seems like college, if we think The Institute is like high school), fighting in space. It’s all still ostensibly a game, but as we saw at The Institute, these games have few rules. And by the end of the book, it’s pretty clear that, to the Golds, everything is a game. When you don’t have a conscience, it really doesn’t matter what happens to the faceless masses.
Anyway, the houses Augustus and Bellona are still at war. It all plays out during the opening Academy battle, which Darrow and co. lose, resulting in the Augustus family essentially releasing him from his contract as lancer. Given that he’s supposed to infiltrate the Society from within, getting kicked out of one of the most powerful ruling families puts quite a kink in those plans. But before Darrow’s contract can be offered up, the Howlers return (Sevro and company), courtesy of the Sons of Ares, to help Darrow take down the Bellonas. Because while Darrow was fighting and training and whatnot, Cassius was becoming one of the Olympic Knights. And also sleeping with Mustang. I have to admit, at first I kind of forgot that Antonia and Mustang were different people and I couldn't figure out how she was somehow in two places at once. Fortunately, there’s a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book, which reminded me that Mustang’s real name is Virginia, not Antonia. Characters whose names I can neither remember nor keep straight? That’s one check in the A Song of Ice and Fire box!
A second check in said box comes with all of Darrow’s various battle plans and subsequent battles. He’s sort of uneasily allied with the Jackal (Mustang’s brother, Augustus’s son, whose real name is Adrias), but everyone keeps reminding him not to trust the dude. Meanwhile, the Sons of Ares are still trying to give him orders, but Darrow is increasingly frustrated with the secrecy of the whole operation. If Ares wants Darrow to carry out his mission, then he should show his face. Basically, Darrow decides that the best way to upend the Society’s structure is to start a civil war -- the Bellonas are allied with the Sovereign (Octavia de Lune, whose home base is the moon, and who I kept mixing up with the characters from Marissa Meyers’s Lunar Chronicles. Sadly we are without androids), but if the Augustus can overthrow them, they can place the seat of solar system power on Mars instead of the moon.
What results is pretty much the Battle of Blackwater in space. And while that grand battle played out amazingly on my TV screen, it didn’t do a whole lot for me in book form. And there’s sort of a similar problem here -- lots of fire and explosions and shooting oneself into space and swordfighting and taking over ships and blowing up other ships... It all happens pretty fast. Brown just burns through the plot here. There’s precious little time for reflection (or whining about our feelings). What’s great about it, though, is that it isn’t merely action and explosions for the sake of having an action scene. To me, a bridge book is one that either doesn’t advance the plot because nothing happens, or one that takes the characters in a big circle. Take bridge book extraordinaire The Infinite Sea. Yes, lots of shit blows up, but by the end of the book, the characters are in the same location, with only a tiny bit more information than when they started, and there’s been no appreciable momentum on ANY of the plot points. Here, we are just powering through one plot after another. There were a few times I wished shit would slow down and stop blowing up, but I appreciate that Brown pulls exactly no punches here.
And then just as I was rolling my eyes and crying Mockingjay, Brown drove a dagger into my heart. (view spoiler)[ So, Darrow calls for an Iron Rain, and although I’m still not clear on what that means, exactly, he and the others shoot themselves into space, land on Mars, almost die, but eventually take over the planet in the name of Augustus. The Sovereign escapes, but most of the Bellonas are dead (save Cassius, of course, because there has to be a final showdown between him and Darrow in the finale). So Darrow is supposed to have a Triumph...some ceremony celebrating his victory. But it’s bittersweet, because he’s revealed his true self to Mustang and she abandoned him and there’s a good chance she could tell someone his secret. And also when he betrayed Roque to try to keep him safe a million battles ago? (the first one, at the party on the moon, when Roque offered to buy out his lancer contract) Well, Roque ain’t over it. Also, the Jackal did have his own plan all along, and Roque is in on it. We found out about halfway through that Fitchner is Ares, which I really should have seen coming but didn’t, and that Sevro is half red, on his mother’s side (also, if we’re keeping with the Game of Thrones comparisons, Sevro is Tyrion, and Fitchner is totally Baelish). Anyway, Darrow is having his triumph and I’m rolling my eyes, because he’s acting like Katniss being turned into the Mockingjay, and just as I’m steeling myself for this boring, typical revolution plot, Brown just upends EVERYTHING in the last two pages. Now it’s the Red Wedding on Mars (fitting, right?). Roque betrays Darrow, drugs him as payback, and the Jackal murders everyone. The last thing we see? Fitchner’s head in a box. (hide spoiler)] Boom. Expectations shattered.
I have absolutely no idea where we will go from here, but I am beyond excited to find out. So much of this book reads more like a finale than a second book, and by the end I was glad we didn’t waste time seeing Darrow train with Lorn, or on his two years at the Academy. In fact, by the end of the book another two years have passed (so it’s been 4 years since his transformation). Although there were a few times I wanted things to slow down a bit, I like that we didn’t dwell on minutiae. I think that’s what separates this from similar-themed YA series. If this were a YA trilogy, we’d probably spend all of the second book on Darrow at the Academy, and save all of the battles for book three, and we’d end with victory for the rebels, like all dystopian books do. In this case, I’m not even convinced Darrow will survive to the end (although he is the narrator, and if I have to suffer through chapters from Mustang’s perspective in book 3, I will take back every good thing I’ve said here!). Speaking of, I was less annoyed with him in this outing. He’s less perfect and amazing, far more human, this time around. In Red Rising, Darrow is great at everything, but here we see him do stupid shit and make some pretty terrible judgment calls. Yes, he’s still the benevolent leader, kind to all colors, which raises suspicions amongst Golds, but he felt like less of a Mary Sue this time. He’s a bit like a less boring Jon Snow (or a less boring, not dead, Robb Stark). Mustang, sadly, has more in common with Cersei by the end than anyone (I so badly wanted her to turn out like Dany. I would even settle for Arya).
I feel like I have done a terrible job of explaining this, but trust me, it is awesome. I am so glad I decided to give this series a chance. Don’t be turned off by the constant comparisons to The Hunger Games. It’s so much more than a rehash of a popular trope. And since I took a chance on the series, I’m filing it in the Sci-Fi square on my #ReadHarder Bingo card. (My goal with that challenge is to try to read more books outside my wheelhouse, or at least books I might have passed up) If you’re a Game of Thrones fan (books or show, it seriously doesn’t matter), pick up this series. Trust me, you will not be sorry. And you will not have to wait another seven years to find out how it ends.
**spoiler alert** This reminded me a LOT of King’s own 11/22/63 about 3/4 of the time. More than half of this reads as a fairly straightforward coming**spoiler alert** This reminded me a LOT of King’s own 11/22/63 about 3/4 of the time. More than half of this reads as a fairly straightforward coming-of-age story (a la Stand by Me). There are some elements of horror, and a general “something isn’t quite right” feeling, but up until Jamie’s last encounter with Jacobs, the promised horror really doesn’t deliver. Then all of a sudden we take a sharp left into HP Lovecraft territory. The final scene reminded me a lot of a Poe story I read in undergrad (and I think again in grad school during my sci fi class) called “Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” It’s one of the creepiest and most unsettling stories I’ve ever read -- a dying man is kept alive through the art of mesmerism, and in the end he actually melts into a pile of “detestable putridity” (a line which has stuck with me for years). All of the Mary Fay stuff at the end struck me as a deliberate homage to that particular tale. And really, without the whole “waking up mother” and the giant ant demons, I was totally on board with that sort of ending. Jacobs wanted to conquer death; to see what was on the other side. I was less on board with the notion that on the other side you’re apparently a slave to giant ants for all eternity. The ending is horrifying, sure, but I feel like it might have had more impact if it hadn’t come out of nowhere. Like I said, there are some hints, but the hints are so subtle as to be easily overlooked -- we keep hearing over and over that they’re nightmares or hallucinations, and then suddenly Jamie’s accepting it as reality? Also, what made him so special? He wasn’t the first cure, nor the most impressive, so why was Jamie the key? Plenty of other people knew Jacobs in his “first life” (before Patsy and Morrie’s deaths)...in fact it actually would have made more sense for Con to be the key, since he was the first cure.
So. Plot. The progression of the story tracks Jamie Morton’s encounters with Charles Daniel Jacobs throughout his life -- first when he was a young child, then a few times throughout his adulthood. Jamie refers to Jacobs as his “fifth business,” a movie term that refers to a character who doesn’t fit any other description -- not a lead, not a supporting character, not an extra. Except...isn’t he a supporting character? Minus the inherent dread inspired by referring to him as “my old fifth business,” I’m not sure I really get the continuing reference. Anyway. When Jamie first meets Jacobs, he’s eight and Jacobs is his pastor -- everyone loves the Jacobs family, beautiful wife Patsy, adorable son Morrie -- but Jacobs himself is taken with Jamie. (So maybe that’s what makes him the key?) The two form a friendship, but when tragedy strikes -- Jacobs’s wife and son are killed in a car accident, and Jacobs gives a sermon denouncing the church -- Jacobs leaves town and Jamie doesn’t expect to see him ever again.
What follows may as well be a coming-of-age novel. Jamie goes to high school, falls in love, has sex, joins a band, and eventually battles drug addiction thanks to a motorcycle accident. He’s an adult when he meets Jacobs again. Hoping to score drugs at a state fair, he sees Jacobs performing photography tricks using electricity. Jacobs sees Jamie in the audience and eventually cures him of his drug addiction, using some kind of electrical gizmo. So now Jamie is in his debt. He spends several months working as Jacobs’s stagehand, essentially, before Jacobs decides to move on, solo. He’s still doing research into electricity, and he keeps talking about harnessing the “secret” electricity, something Jamie believes is mostly just talk. But still, there’s something crazy and fanatical about old Pastor Jacobs. Also, after his “cure,” Jamie spends a few years beset by nightmares about walking into a house full of rotting corpses (all family members) waiting for “mother” to arrive. But after a few years, the dreams stop, he gets a job in Colorado working for a music production studio (thanks to a favor called in by Jacobs himself), and gives little thought to Jacobs or his secret electricity for many years.
The two reconnect while Jamie is still working the job Jacobs landed him -- at a music studio in Colorado. He essentially blackmails him into helping: if Jamie doesn’t come when Jacobs calls, Jacobs won’t cure Jamie’s childhood love, Astrid (I think that’s her name...suddenly it’s been 3 weeks since I finished this book and the details are fuzzier and fuzzier!). Now in spite of the fact that Jamie hasn’t spoken to this woman in almost 30 years, he jumps immediately when Jacobs makes this offer. Jamie has spent a great deal of the intervening time between Jacobs meetings doing research -- at one point Jacobs reinvented himself as a televangelist healer, and had a popular TV show. But Jamie and his research partner start to discover the darker side of Jacobs’ cures...namely that many of them eventually lose touch with reality. Jamie himself is still occasionally plagued by nightmares, and his boss at the music studio (another of Jacobs’ early cures) has a similar vision of the ant people. Anyway, Jacobs falls off the radar for a number of years, but resurfaces with this offer for Jamie.
This was the truly horrifying portion of the plot -- Jacobs is obsessed with death, conquering death. He could, of course, have run the experiment on himself (he’s dying as much as Mary Fay is), but it’s about proving that he can triumph. The horror part was...well, horrifying, but it’s almost like too little, too late, at that point. There’s not enough dread suffused throughout the plot, to the point where the final section might as well be an entirely different book. I read another review that suggested that this (the final portion) was a novella-worthy idea stretched out to 400 pages. Which I think is the case. I’m not sure we needed all of Jamie’s childhood and various backstory in order for the story to have an impact.
In all, this wasn’t a terrible read, just sort of lacking in impact. It meanders along for nearly 300 pages and when it finally gets interesting, it’s a little hard to muster up the energy to care. I’m kind of trying to avoid thinking too hard about the ending, really, because it’s just too freaky!
This is a terrible review! I shouldn't wait so long before finishing them!
This was...different. I kept trying to compare it to other books/authors, but it's pretty unique. I think I liked it! ------------------ The narrative vThis was...different. I kept trying to compare it to other books/authors, but it's pretty unique. I think I liked it! ------------------ The narrative voice in this book reminded me of something, but it's driving me crazy that I can't figure out what it is. Maybe Girlfriend in a Coma? Going Bovine? Arg.
I kind of love that the actual science behind the plot is just not even explained -- Travis Coates was dying of cancer, and he and his parents agreed to a radical procedure: chop off his head, cryogenically freeze it, and then eventually reattach it to a healthy body. And five years after Travis's "death," that's exactly what doctors are able to do. So Travis wakes up in a different body and everyone he knows is five years older, while he's still 16. And somehow even freakier -- he has no sensation of time having passed at all. He remembers going in for the operation to remove his head, and then waking up with a sore throat. This is where the novel begins, by the way. Although we hear about Travis's battle with cancer in flashbacks, the story opens with him waking up in his new body.
So, it's a miracle and everything, obviously, but once the novelty of being back wears off, Travis suddenly has to deal with how absolutely weird it is that he's missed five whole years of his life. The family Thanksgiving dinner in particular is a a little heartbreaking -- Travis's cousins have passed him up in age, so he has to sit at the "kids' table" and he feels like he's part of a different generation than the people he's grown up with. To say nothing of the fact that his girlfriend is now engaged. And also he has to repeat his sophomore year of high school.
Like I said, the science of how Travis is able to come back is completely glossed over. He's the second person who's survived the procedure, and he has a few chats with the other guy, a middle-aged man with children, but he's basically just a plot device. I kept waiting for more on the Saranson Center for Life Preservation, or the other candidates (there were 15 others...did they all die? Are some of them still...in storage?). But this isn't a science fiction story. Maybe I read too much dystopia, but I kept waiting for some kind of sinister backstory behind the Center for Life Preservation -- it sounds like something out of the Unwind series. I suppose when faced with the choice of how to approach this narrative, Whaley could have spent a bunch of time on the "how," but instead just decided to go with the old "science!....stop asking questions." approach. I can respect that. After all, the story is about Travis adjusting to his new-old life, not how he got that way.
And Travis has a difficult time doing that adjusting. I mean, imagine that everyone and everything ages five years while you're in suspended animation. Travis is still very much a teenager, in body and in mind, while his best friend and girlfriend are both college students in their 20s. Unsurprisingly, Travis spends a whole lot of time wishing his life could just go back to the way it used to be. (view spoiler)[This was what I found a bit frustrating -- I can understand his desire, especially at the outset of the story, but I wanted him to eventually be at peace with his new-old life. Instead, he's still mooning over his very-much-engaged first girlfriend by the end of the book. There's a bit of personal growth, including an absolutely lovely scene wherein Travis and his friends track down the grave where his body donor's remains are and pour his ashes on top of it. But four pages later he's still trying to kiss Cate and tell her they belong together. Because high school love is eternal love, of course. I will say it is interesting to see this from a male perspective -- usually it's the girls falling in love and insisting it will last forever (see: Delirium, Matched, pretty much anything by Rebecca Serle). (hide spoiler)]
But overall, I did enjoy this (minus the frustrations mentioned behind the spoiler cut). It's certainly a unique premise and the voice is great and entertaining.
**spoiler alert** This is like How to Lead a Life of Crime meets Hunger Games on Mars. And it's both kind of awesome and kind of riddled with holes. A**spoiler alert** This is like How to Lead a Life of Crime meets Hunger Games on Mars. And it's both kind of awesome and kind of riddled with holes. Another of those books that's best read quickly, before you have too much time to process the parts that don't make sense. And also if you don't think too much about how obnoxious the protagonist is. -------------------- So this is like an amalgamation of several other books -- Hunger Games, The Testing, How to Lead a Life of Crime. It’s a unique premise on the surface, but the more you read, and the more holes you attempt to poke, the more it starts to resemble lots of other stories...not even in a bad way. I’ll argue forever about how great How to Lead a Life of Crime is...although it too is extremely reminiscent of Divergent (except stuff happens).
The story takes place on Mars, a fact I kept forgetting, and society’s various castes are now color-coded. The reds are miners, the golds are in charge, and I’m sort of unclear about what else is happening in between all of that. There’s a veritable rainbow of colors, and even some apparent variations on those (“high Gold”, for instance). Anyway, since this is a dystopia, our protagonist is of course the lowest of low classes. As far as Darrow has known, Mars is unfit for human habitation, so he and the other Reds live underground, basically terraforming the planet so the Golds left on Earth can come live there someday. At first, it’s your typical disaffected rebel story, and I was so sure I knew how it was going to go: after Darrow and his wife are arrested, his wife outs herself as a rebel during their punishment (she signs a forbidden song, calling to mind the scene in Catching Fire where the guy in District 11 is beaten to death for giving the 3 finger salute), which gets her marked as a traitor and hanged. Darrow finds himself facing the noose as well...now I can’t totally remember why, something to do with his wife, I think, but thanks to a drug his uncle slips him, he survives the hanging and is rescued by a secret group of rebels. So far so good on the predictable front at this point! And of course, Darrow keeps remembering his wife Eo, and wanting to carry out her wishes of rebellion, blah blah blah.
But then Brown drops a swerve on us -- turns out, the surface of Mars is perfectly fine, people have been living there for years. In fact, there are even “high” Reds who toil on the surface. The underground Reds are slaves...except they don’t totally realize it. They know they’re the lowest class, but they’re completely ignorant of what’s happening on the surface. Darrow, of course, is “the one” who can change all of that. The rebels send him to a Carver (which...Nip/Tuck flashbacks anyone? Just me?), basically a glorified plastic surgeon, who can turn him into a Gold, which will allow him to infiltrate the training academy and start the rebellion from within. All of Darrow’s transformation and training are sort of glossed over, which didn’t really bug me, because look: he’s the main character. We know everything will be successful and he’ll infiltrate and whatnot, because otherwise there’s no story. So it didn’t really bug me that Brown sort of montages over all of that in favor of getting at the meat of the narrative: The War.
The training academy reminded me a LOT of The Testing -- an assembly of the best and brightest, where only the top tier are admitted, with the rest facing certain death. I will say in The Testing’s favor that Charbonneau doesn’t shy away from shocking deaths (it’s the romance that killed that story for me!), but here it’s even more brutal. After splitting the 1,000 students into houses of 100, they’re faced with The Passage, in which students are paired off and forced to fight to the death, which culls each house’s herd of 100 down to 50. So your start at the Academy begins with murder. And of course, for maximum angst, Darrow must face his one kinda-sorta friend in The Passage: Julian, member of a prominent Mars family. And of course, Julian’s brother Cassius survives his own Passage, meaning it’s only a matter of time before he finds out Darrow killed his brother. But in the meantime the two form a friendship of convenience.
Anyway, the Academy is a little different than your typical school for evil geniuses in that it’s all a gigantic practical exam. The twelve houses are at war -- it’s essentially large-scale capture the flag. Each house has to conquer the others and take their standard (flag), and they have the means to enslave their captives along the way. Whoever is leader of the winning house is the top student of the year, and of course the best placed for job offers. In order to rebel successfully, Darrow needs to earn that top spot for himself, obviously. There are rules...ish to the warfare, and the proctors watch from floating Mount Olympus (this was the part that reminded me of Hunger Games -- watching children fight to the death is grand entertainment!), but it’s clear early on that certain people can get away with more than others. And there’s very much a survival of the fittest theme happening: of course outright killing a classmate is frowned upon, but if something fatal just...happens, well, that Gold probably wasn’t strong enough to make it through in the first place.
Darrow’s house is Mars (they’re named after the planets...and then also some Roman gods. The whole naming system is unclear...there’s Minerva and Juno and Apollo, and also Pluto...maybe it’s just Roman gods? I am so terrible with mythology!), and of course, they are the red headed stepchild of the Academy. Their proctor is an ass, and totally unhelpful, and it takes very little time for the students all to split off into groups and start fighting with each other, instead of teaming up to take down the other houses. This was where the How to Lead a Life of Crime comparisons happened -- everything is so brutal, and only the people who realize that this “game” is very much NOT a game have the best chances of survival.
The story itself is compelling -- after stop-starting quite a bit on the first 30-ish percent, I plowed through the bulk of it in an afternoon. The beginning is dull and predictable, because if you’ve read as much dystopia as I have, you know exactly where all of this is going...until the whole terraforming twist. Then everything proceeds at breakneck pace until the end. There are some plot holes with how the game is supposed to work, and some issues left unexplored (like the fact that Titus was also maybe-probably a Red? There’s barely time to process it before he’s executed. And also the whole “twins!” twist...it’s something I should have seen coming, but it also kind of comes out of nowhere). Also Darrow is a pain in the ass. He’s not exactly a martyr, but I was WAY over his whole attitude after about 5 pages. Yes, Golds are entitled, because they've never known life any other way. Yes, in order to rebel against the system, you’re probably going to have to kill many of these people, even the ones who don’t suck. He wasn’t whiny, exactly, but there was simply something off putting about Darrow’s general demeanor. And, as other reviewers have pointed out, he never really seems to struggle (I made the same point about Malencia in The Testing). Yes, the Carving is painful and his training is hard, but he picks everything up quickly, thanks to all of his training driving drills, and he’s an expert swordsman because he’s from a culture that values dancing...it’s all a little too convenient. Anything he doesn’t already excel at can simply be dropped into his head via a serum, or an injection, or some other magical means (which is a little Divergent-y for my tastes). Like...I get that Darrow needs to be the bestest, fastest, strongest because he has to rise to the top, but it might be more interesting to see him actually try> to become the best, instead of just waking up this way. I didn’t have much urge to root for him, mostly since I knew he’d eventually come out on top anyway (it’s a trilogy, after all), so it was kind of an interesting experience to read simply for plot rather than character. The plot is compelling, the characters are not.