Pros: thought-provoking, characters are three dimensional, shows war for what it is
Cons: Southside people accept Nik's story too readily, some names a...morePros: thought-provoking, characters are three dimensional, shows war for what it is
Cons: Southside people accept Nik's story too readily, some names are mentioned without context so when they're mentioned again it's hard to remember who the person was
For Parents: minor swearing, violence (not excessive, but it's a war situation, so: assassination, bombs, beatings, minor torture etc.), no sexual content
Seventeen year old Nik's brown skin marks him as a Southsider, though he's attended school on Cityside since he was 5. His intelligence has him earmarked for the Internal Security and Intelligence Services (ISIS), so no one understands why they pass on recuiting him. When the school is bombed he's suspected by ISIS of collaborating with the enemy. In an attempt to leave the city with friends from school, one of them is kidnapped by Southsiders and Nik and a girl team up to get him back. Knowing only the language and anti-Southside propoganda, the two have no idea what they're walking into.
The story focuses on their search for the boy in Southside. There are elements here that are hard to believe at first, as the two are obviously unaware of local customs and the girl's language skills are minimal (I'm calling her 'the girl' to avoid spoiling the first 75 pages of the book more than necessary). Nik lands in a position where he's privy to sensitive information, something that's hard to credit given his refusal to give more than his name and place of origin (one real, the other a lie). When his high intelligence is revealed, the characters start to question how a barely educated teen (as would be the case if his story were true) broke encrypted codes and then just accept his information with only a little hesitation.
That issue aside though, the book is brilliant. The pacing is fast, though the characters don't know how to go about looking for the boy, enough is happening with regards to Southside politics that the book never drags. Soon enough the teens learn information of value and events spiral out of their control as they're drawn deeper into a faction war among the Southsiders.
The political manuverings and history of the war are interesting, though the history isn't dealt with in as much detail as this reviewer would have like. Higgins' world-building is solid, with a bloody past, religious rituals, class and economic troubles, etc. It's obvious she's considered aspects of society that are never fully mentioned, but season the story nonetheless.
The characters are all three dimensional, with often tragic pasts, reasons for their actions and motivations, and difficult decisions to make. Though the book is from Nik's point of view, there are several strong female characters, and several characters of colour (including him). Discussion of race doesn't come into the book much, beyond Nik's fitting in better - with regards to looks - on Southside than his companion. But it is somewhat problematic as Citysiders are described as being predominantly white, while Southsiders are mixed (easterners being white and southsiders being black). This reviewer would have liked learning more about where the Southsiders came from (it's explained that they're refugees coming up from the South and East but Nik doesn't know more than that). Instead, class distinction is used for the reason for the hostilities between Southside and Cityside. And when it comes to positions of power, men and women are treated equally - on both sides.
The only problem with the characters, beyond the Southsider's easy acceptance of Nik, was that a few of them, like Commander Vega, are occasionally referred to by their first names rather than their titles. It's realistic, but the extra names were hard to remember. Similarly there were a few times when a character was mentioned briefly by name and then mentioned again a few chapters later and it was hard to remember who they were referring to.
While many teen dystopian books take a sort of Stockholm syndrome approach, with the protagonist learning that their way is wrong and the other side's better, this one does something different, and more realistic. It shows how both sides in war use propoganda to control their people. It brings home how ideology, fanaticism and the belief in one's cause can blind people to the reality of war - that people are dying. War is horrifying and no amount of 'an eye for an eye' will bring it to an end. The book is about how regular people - children even - get dragged into the fighting, as the war kills their loved ones, destroys their homes, limits food and medicine, and leaves them with nothing but ashes. It's about the choice every person in a war torn area makes, to continue the fighting in an attempt to utterly defeat the enemy or to try to work towards peace.
This theme, that both sides in a conflict can be evil, was used in Mockingjay (by Suzanne Collins). In that book, the rebel leadership is shown to be just a bad as the learders of Panem. Putting them in charge would not have changed anything but whose kids competed in the Hunger Games.
We're used to having one good side and one evil side when we think of war. The idea that both sides do evil things is something we prefer to hide and forget. Everyone knows that the Axis in World War II did horrible things. But how many attrocities did the Allies commit? There were internment camps, boats full of Jews turned back at North American ports, with nowhere left to go but back to Germany. There was rioting and rape. Horrific bombs were dropped not only on Hiroshima, but also on Nagasaki. This novel acknowledges that by the end of hostilities, neither side in war is 'right', regardless of who started it and why. It's a bold position to take and the message of the book really hits home. War is evil and there has to be a better way.
It's a powerful, moving story. And this reviewer can't recommend it enough.(less)
Pros: well drawn characters, interesting world, some great twists, thought provoking
Cons: despite his job, Erin's father seems clueless regarding her...morePros: well drawn characters, interesting world, some great twists, thought provoking
Cons: despite his job, Erin's father seems clueless regarding her intelligence and snooping
For Parents: no swearing, no sexual content, little violence (a few people get punched / hit with items, but nothing graphic)
Logan's been paranoid since his older sister died during her Pledging. His thirteenth birthday, and the day of his own Pledging, is only a few months away and he's terrified of the same thing happening to him. But Pledging means getting his Mark. And only the Marked can hold jobs and buy things. Then he discovers that his paranoia is justified, and his entire life changes.
Erin doesn't want to leave Beacon for Spokie. But her dad's been transferred there for his job doing 'government work', whatever that means. Her decision to snoop into her father's private papers opens her eyes to his purpose in Spokie; to stop a man kidnapping local children before they can take the Pledge. She decides that the sooner this man is caught, the sooner she can return home.
The two kids team up to keep Logan from being the next to disappear.
Swipe tells of a future where global war has caused such problems that large parts of the US, Canada and Mexico - now called the American Union - are uninhabitable. There are no religions. The AU and the European Union are close to creating a Global Union. Part of this new union required the Marking of all AU citizens. Indeed, the only way to be a citizen and benefit from its privileges requires getting the Mark. Those who choose not to get the mark are either servants, have someone with a Mark to support them or live in slums.
The world has some interesting new technologies to replace the more wasteful items of today. Few people use paper anymore, tablets being mainstream. Similarly, since air travel is now so expensive and cars the luxury of the super rich, people cross the country (if they need to) by magnetrain and get around cities by electrobuses and rollersticks (a device the size of a skateboard with a handle that works like a segway).
Logan is a great character. He's introduced as the boy who cried wolf, being convinced for years that someone's watching him. He's neither popular nor friendless. He's a pushover until he finds a reason to fight back.
Erin on the other hand is very brave and bold, coming up with new plans for how to catch the kidnappers. Not always good plans, mind you, she's only 13, but she is quite clever.
The book has some great twists, heading in directions I didn't expect. I especially liked that there were no easy answers for the protagonists. They make mistakes and at the end they each make decisions that work for them - and their view of events. The book is fast paced and a quick read.
My only complaint was with how long it took Erin's dad to figure out what she was up to. He seemed surprisingly clueless as to her keen intelligence.
A great book for adults, teens and maybe even younger kids - with some interesting discussion possibilities.(less)
Pros: interesting setting, brilliant assassin school/convent idea, characters all have realistic motivations (including the antagonists)
Cons: I didn't...morePros: interesting setting, brilliant assassin school/convent idea, characters all have realistic motivations (including the antagonists)
Cons: I didn't understand why Ismae was chosen for the mission
Ismae is 17 years old and about to be married off to a man who is likely as boorish and abusive as her father, when she's spirited away to a convent. There she learns that being the daughter of Death is not a curse but a blessing and is trained in the ways of assassins.
But she skips out on her lessons on courtliness and seduction, lessons that would have helped with her third assignment, at the court of Brittany's besieged twelve year old Duchess. A Duchess whose hand in marriage was promised to a boorish, brutal man. This is a marriage alliance that her older half-brother, Duval, the man Ismae is to accompany to court, and whom she must watch for signs of treason, intends to prevent.
As she tries to see through the various plots at court, Ismae discovers she has feelings for Duval. But Death's Handmaidens are not trained for love.
Late Medieval Brittany is a fantastic setting, with all the political intrigue at the Duchess's court as well as the threat of attack from the French. There's even the threat of attack from her suitor should she break the betrothal agreement her father made with him. The countryside is suitably rustic and court extravagant.
The convent to the old God of Death, Mortain, now called a Saint after the Christianization of the land, and its training of assassins who work for His cause, was brilliant. It feels more like a boarding school setting, with the girls learning the different arts they will need. The only off note here was the inclusion of Eastern style martial arts, which would have been unknown in those parts at that time. But as it's historical fantasy, one cannot fault the author for wanting to include throwing stars (or rondelles as they're called in the book) and the like in the arsenals of the girls.
The motivations for each characters actions is realistic, even those of the bad guys. Indeed, the book shows court life in all its complexity, with few being trustworthy and everyone working towards their own aims - even when those aims are in direct opposition to those of their sovereign. It also shows the power and lack thereof of women. Though Duchess, due to her age and sex Anne's voice isn't held in high esteem. And her council members try to make the best decisions for Brittany, even though they may not be the best decisions for Anne herself.
My only real complaint with the book was that Ismae shouldn't have been sent on this mission. She didn't have the understanding of court life required nor was she sufficiently adept at hiding her identity or mission. I was surprised that no back story was created to explain her meeting Duval, and she was constantly jumping to conclusions, or assuming that events could only point to one answer, while I often saw other options that she missed or only considered in passing. This pushed me out of the story on many occasions, when I wondered why the convent would send her, as a novice, when they must have had more experienced women they could have sent who would have done a much better job. She was also accepted at court more readily than I believed possible (given her peasant upbringing and her lack of comfort with court/city life) and allowed to wander everywhere, something I doubt a real court would have allowed of a high ranking officer's mistress (which was her cover story, and an odd cover story for a woman who is trying to hobnob with ladies-in-waiting). Ismae was surprisingly bad at talking to servants, which given that she was looking for gossip, seemed a serious failing. She also tuned out the gossip of the Duchess's ladies on those few occasions when she met with them. I was surprised that their gossip was always passed off as being frivolous, when in reality there would have been some political undertones to their conversation.
The book ended well - indeed Ismae came into her own for the last hundred pages and I liked her a lot more for it.
If you can overlook Ismae's unsuitableness for the mission, it's an interesting read. (less)
Pros: thought provoking, fascinating premise, well executed, everyone has plausible motivations for their actions
Cons: ending a little too pat, subjec...morePros: thought provoking, fascinating premise, well executed, everyone has plausible motivations for their actions
Cons: ending a little too pat, subject matter's dark for younger teens
For Parents: no swearing, no sexual content, depictions of child abuse (beatings, brainwashing), threats of violence, murder, suicide
Surplus Anna lives in Grange Hall, training to be a Valuable Asset. Her parents ignored the Declaration in order to have her, and it's her duty to repay the world for their selfishness by becoming a servant of Legals. She'll be sixteen soon and her time at Grange Hall is ending.
She's a good Surplus and Knows Her Place. The coming of a new boy, her age, much older than Surpluses are usually found, turns her life upside-down. He claims to know her parents. He claims to know a way to escape Grange Hall. He calls her Anne Covey.
Like the protagonist in 1984, Anne's first act of defiance regarding her life is to start a diary. Her infractions mount quickly.
The premise that in the future humans would learn how to prolong life - to live forever - is interesting, especially given that this book takes it to the next level: with no one dying, there's no room for kids. We're never completely told what the actual Declaration says, which would normally annoy me, but here worked to add tension and horror, at each new revelation. I also liked how Malley gave periodic insights into how the world of the future worked, especially the idea that people, knowing they'd have to deal with climate problems rather than their descendants, finally took steps towards curbing them.
Everyone has a plausible reason for why they act the way they do, including Mrs. Pincent, the House Matron, whose goal at the Hall is to break the children and make them hate their parents.
While there's no swearing or sexual content, there is a fair amount of violence, both verbal and physical abuse of children, murder and suicide. The book shows some of the realities of police states, where rights can be withdrawn on a whim and terror is a means of controlling people.
The ending is a bit contrived, all the plot lines a little too neatly tied up, but that's forgivable given the heavy nature of the book and the audience it's intended for.(less)
Pros: dystopian/postapocalyptic America, complex world building, intelligent characters, minor romantic elements, fast paced, real concequences for ac...morePros: dystopian/postapocalyptic America, complex world building, intelligent characters, minor romantic elements, fast paced, real concequences for actions, clear POV
For Parents: some violence, no language, kissing
Day is 15, from a poor sector, and the Republic's most wanted criminal: for acts of terrorism and because they can't identify him. He breaks into a hospital to steal plague medicine for a family member and has a run-in with military Captain Metias while trying to escape.
June is also 15, the only person to score a perfect 1500 in the Trials. She's being training for a job in the military. When her brother - and only living relative - Metias is killed by the fugitive Day, she's given the job of hunting him down.
Legend takes place in a future where the U.S. has broken up into the Republic and the Colonies. Electricity is intermittent outside the richer sectors and, due to the war, sometimes even within it. Lu has crafted an intricate world but only shows what the characters would notice or care about, so there's a lot of information regarding class distinctions (especially pointed out by June) but little history or politics outside Los Angeles, where the story takes place. Hopefully later books will add more of such information.
The two teen protagonists tell the story in alternating chapters, with Day's side in a brown font so it's impossible to mix up whose point of view it is. And while both teens are super smart, noticing details and getting into adult problems/situations, they're not angsty at all. The characters face very real consequences for their actions even as they develop feelings for each other.
The pacing is fast and the plot is compelling. If you like dystopian YA, read this. (less)
Pros: intriguing mysteries, several good plot twists, very light romance
Cons: simplistic writing for a teen book, end twist comes from left field
For P...morePros: intriguing mysteries, several good plot twists, very light romance
Cons: simplistic writing for a teen book, end twist comes from left field
For Parents: the treatments are a little intense, but there's nothing particularly graphic, no swearing or content
Seven kids, each of whom have crippling fears, are shipped off to Fort Eden for treatment. But Will Besting, one of the patients, suspects something sinister is going on.
I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand the writing is simplistic (lots of repetition, easy words, the end twist is narrated rather than something you discover), on the other hand there are some good plot twists and a light romance.
The protagonist did some things that seem strange until you discover his - rather apt - fear. Indeed, learning what the kids are afraid of is part of the fun of this novel. As are the hints that not everything's right in Eden.
I'd place this as a teen book for younger readers who don't mind a few chills.(less)
Pros: fascinating caste system, excellent world building, interesting characters, quick paced
Cons: the romances seem to happen fast and are, given the...morePros: fascinating caste system, excellent world building, interesting characters, quick paced
Cons: the romances seem to happen fast and are, given the environment, a little unrealistic
For Parents: no sex, no language, minimal violence
Kayla is a GEN, a Genetically Engineered Non-human. Her right cheek is tattooed with her DNA mark, where anyone can use a datapad to access her annexed brain and where the details of her job will be stored when she's given her work assignment. That assignment will be based on the skill set her gene-spliced animal DNA gives her (enhanced upper body strength) on her fast-approaching 15th birthday. She'll be taken from her nurture mother and friends and spend the rest of her life working for true and lowborns. All according to the Infinite's will. Her best friend, Mishalla, has already been assigned to a sector far away. But unknown to Kayla, Mishalla's been diverted from her assigned place to work at a crisis creche closer to home. There, Mishalla befriends a lowborn and slowly becomes aware that there's something strange about the creche as children appear and are taken away at an alarming rate. When Kayla is finally placed, she stumbles across a conspiracy that could help her people, or get her brain reset.
Karen Sandler's Tankborn is a thought-provoking YA science fiction that's very fast-paced and brilliantly executed. You're thrown into the world, having to figure out terminology via its usage rather than through information dumps. And while the plot isn't hard to follow, there's a lot of underlying themes that lend themselves to discussion (with regards to using religion to control people, the morality of creating a race of genetically engineered slaves, etc.).
One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is the caste system. The story takes place on Loka, a planet colonized by humans. Where you fall in the hierarchy is determined by what job your ancestors had on the colony ships -- trueborns being subdivided depending on their wealth and lowborns being those who agreed to work for their passage. The interesting thing is that skin colour is generally a means of telling people of different statuses apart, with high-status trueborns being mostly dark skinned with black hair. People with lesser statuses have either really dark or paler skin. Even GENs vary in skin tone across the spectrum. This setup allows for discussions of racism without it becoming a strictly 'white' vs 'black' issue. In other words, Sandler presents it as a complex issue without simple answers.
Tankborn has romance but no sex, and the violence is kept to a minimum. The romances are fun, even if Kayla's seems a little fast given her and her beau are from completely different castes. I suspect that his great-grandfather's influence notwithstanding, a trueborn would require more time to get used to the idea that GENs should be treated with respect and are equal to humans after a lifetime of being told otherwise. The characters are interesting and their problems/concerns realistic given their circumstances.
Tankborn is a highly recommended, thought-provoking YA novel from a new imprint dedicated to diversity. (less)