Posts Tagged With: dystopian

Chaos Walking: Monsters of Men

by Patrick Ness

In the final book of the Chaos Walking trilogy, a third narrator adds to the story. 1017 has compelled a Spackle army to attack New Prentisstown, and we get to see some of the events unfold from his perspective. Todd has released the Mayor in the hope that he will save humanity from the Spackle attack. He believes he can keep the Mayor in line with his newfound Noise talents. In return, the Mayor helps him make a few improvements on himself. Viola and Mistress Coyle both set up camp with the newly landed scout ship, but the people from the ship are unsure whether or not they should become involved in either of the wars they’ve stepped into. 1017 waits impatiently for the Spackle (or, the Land, as they call themselves) to help him enact vengeance on the Clearing (humans). He himself wants to kill the Knife (Todd), whom he despises not for his evil acts but for his wishy-washy attitude about committing atrocities he knows are wrong. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as Viola’s home ship prepares to land on New World in a matter of months. Every faction on New World has their own hopes about what kind of situation will greet the new settlers upon their arrival.

Again, a great depiction of egomaniacal politicians, this time with the complicated process of war and peace with an external enemy thrown in the mix. It was very frustrating to see Todd and the rest of New Prentisstown start to buy into the Mayor’s rhetoric yet again, but it wasn’t unrealistic. It felt like watching a politician known for his horrible past still win over the popular vote. I loved this series for capturing the short term memory of the general public. I was disappointed with some of the reveals at the end, which made the Mayor out to be more of a lone crazy evil guy, absolving everyone who was complicit with his crimes. It diminished what I thought was the whole meaning of the series, so it’s a pretty sizeable disappointment. Still, not everything was over-explained at the end, leaving readers to make their own conclusions about some of the events in New World’s history.

I think this book gives readers a lot to talk about in terms of politics, morality, etc. Questions about freedom fighting vs terrorism are still huge in this volume, although I felt like the main characters respond unfairly to Mistress Coyle throughout. I’m not sure if it was Ness’s intention to discredit her with some of her actions, but I still think she is the most reasonable character and I wish she had been given more attention or a better storyline. I would definitely read a prequel starring her. Overall, it was not everything I wanted it to be on the morals front–for a series that deals so much with people trying to do what’s right and feeling regret over their mistakes, the main character never takes any steps to make reparations for his actions.

On the action front, however, it was rockin’. So much happens! Characters are killed off or maimed, and not for meaningful literary or emotional purposes. The stupid love triangle set up in the second book comes to what I can only hope is a temporary conclusion. Not overly romantic for us romance-averse readers, and in my mind a ship full of new settlers will increase everyone’s options because nobody ends up with the person they liked when they were 14.

Despite the shortcomings of this volume, I would still recommend the whole series to teens and adults who are interested in dystopian settings, planetary colonization, gender wars, and books with complex conflicts. Must read the first and second books before this one.

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Chaos Walking: The Ask and the Answer

by Patrick Ness

Book two in the Chaos Walking series continues where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off. Todd and Viola have made it to Haven only to find it completely empty save for Mayor Prentiss, who has taken over the town and become president. Viola and Todd are separated and both need to play by the Mayor’s rules in order to see each other again. Instead of being narrated completely by Todd as in the first book, this volume is narrated in turns by Viola and Todd. They are separated for most of the book, only able to contact each other a handful of times. As their time apart lengthens, they begin to wonder if they are on the same side anymore. Todd spends so much energy just getting by under the Mayor’s orders that he becomes complicit in his crimes. Viola finds herself working with a group of mostly female dissidents within Haven called the Answer, run by a morally questionable leader. How far will they both stray from their moral core to be together, and what will happen to New World when the war comes to a head?

Usually sequels lose momentum in the second book, but Patrick Ness keeps the story going at an even faster pace than the first book. The setting, the challenges, and even the characters we got to know in the first book have all changed. More questions about morality come up in this book, and I think it’s a really accurate depiction of how dictatorships start out. People just want to get by, and they compromise their morals to do it. Those who challenge malevolent rulers lose sympathy from regular citizens by making it harder to just get by. While I thought a lot of the tactics the Mayor and the Answer used were true to life, I had a hard time believing Todd’s character development in this book. I liked it as a plot point, but I think it would have taken a bit more to make him go as far as he did. I also thought that some of the crimes he ends up committing would drive more of a wedge between him and Viola, but maybe there will be more consequences in the next book. I do like that they are loyal to each other, and I really hope that they do not end up getting romantic in the next chapter of the story. Despite the somewhat unbelievable jumps in moral boundaries, I loved this book hard. I think it’s really important to show how human rights can be chipped away so easily in a fear-based culture, especially considering the current political war against women’s rights in the western world. That being said, this book isn’t didactic at all and leaves it up to the reader to draw comparisons between their own society and New World.

This book should be read after The Knife of Never Letting Go. See my review here.

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Chaos Walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go

by Patrick Ness

Todd is about to become a man. He will be the last of the citizens of Prentisstown to cross over into adulthood, since he was the last to be born before all the women died. In the war before he was born, the native Spackle of New World attacked the settlers with a germ that killed all the women and made everyone’s thoughts heard and seen out loud. Even the animals talk, though Todd’s unwanted dog Manchee usually only has poo on his mind. Todd hates all the Noise men and animals make, but a quiet spot he senses in the swamp one day disturbs him even more. When he tells his guardians Ben and Cillian about the quiet spot, they start to panic and tell Todd that he has to leave Prentisstown. In fact, they have been planning for this day his whole life and already have a bag packed for him. Bewildered, Todd escapes with Manchee back into the swamp as Mayor Prentiss’s police force storms his house looking for him. Todd is unsure of what he’s supposed to do when he finds the quiet spot again, a confusion that is only made worse when he tracks it down and discovers that it is a girl. With the whole town on their tracks, Todd, Manchee, and this mysterious girl with no Noise must trek into the unknown world beyond Prentisstown.

First, I have to say that I loved Manchee from the moment he said “poo.” Second, I loved almost everything else about this book. The world is described well enough to start, and its backstory is continuously revealed in a natural way. The characters are all individuals–even the ones you only meet once–and their relationships are realistic. The dialogue is natural–even the thought dialogue, which the first person narration is cleverly a part of. I get frustrated at reveals that should come earlier, like Todd not reading the note or the journal Ben packed for him, but this one was a little bit understandable and there are at least consequences (outside of reader frustration) for Todd waiting so long to get Viola to read them. I also get irritated when characters who are being hunted won’t kill to protect themselves, but this book dealt with the brutal reality of killing someone really well, and has some good morality twists. If Patrick Ness isn’t a fan of Joss Whedon’s work I would be very surprised. He absolutely refuses to give his readers more than a fleeting moment of triumph before plunging his characters into an even more desperate situation. Plus, Aaron the preacher is basically Caleb from season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, indestructibility and all. I loved the ending of this book. Definitely a cliff-hanger, but one I actually respect. All I really love in this world is a story that promises me happiness then yanks it away in the cruelest manner possible. Can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

Definitely dark stuff. Recommended for older teens and adults who like dystopian settings and/or the work of Joss Whedon.

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Blood Red Road

by Moira Young

Saba is devoted to nothing more than her twin brother, Lugh. They live with their little sister Emmi and their pa out in the middle of nowhere with only one distant neighbour. Living conditions are getting worse and worse, and Pa can’t seem to read the stars right anymore so he doesn’t know when the next rain will come. Lugh says Pa could never read the stars, that there’s nothing to read, they’re just stars. But it seems the stars have told their pa something, because he knows before it happens that Lugh is going to being carried off by Tonton soldiers, that Saba will search for Lugh, and that he himself is going to die trying to stop the Tonton from leaving. After she sees the Tonton kill her father and ride off with her brother, Saba fuels her quest for Lugh with red hot hatred, letting her anger take control and guide her through each trial she encounters. Her singleminded pursuit of her brother becomes complicated when others want to get involved, and Saba must learn to feel more than anger and hatred in order to achieve her true heart’s desire.

This book is nearly 500 pages, but I blew through it in four days because I just couldn’t put it down. Saba is a very strong, stubborn character with a loud personality. She reminded me of Katsa from Graceling, because she was physically strong but had problems allowing herself to feel positive emotions. I love strong female characters, and any character that has a crow as a free pet gets bonus points for awesomeness. I wasn’t sure if I would like the writing style, since many words are written in a phonetic way, but it was consistent and definitely more intelligible than Trainspotting. First person narration can get awkward with action sequences, but Saba is a gripping narrator and the action reads like you’re watching it yourself. As always, I was frustrated when the focus shifted from action to romance, and I found it hard to believe that Saba’s real heart’s desire was not saving the life of her twin brother, but starting a romance with some annoyingly cocky dude she just met. I guess either way she lives entirely to be with one man or another, which is less feminist than I thought this book would be (not to mention less entertaining). Still, I really enjoyed the adventure in the story–if not the characters and their relationships–and I would read the next one to see how it goes and how Saba’s character continues to develop. I sincerely hope the Amazon-like Free Hawks get more page time in the next one–especially Maev–and I pray to Moira Young that it won’t involve anyone getting together with Lugh.

Of course a good read for anyone who loved The Hunger Games or other dystopian books with romance thrown in. The romance part is a bit of a dealbreaker for readers who just want a straight-up action adventure, though.

Question for other dystopia-loving readers: can you think of any physically strong female protagonists who do not get romantic with another character? I’d love to find something like that.

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The Boy at the End of the World

by Greg van Eekhout

Fisher becomes born by accident. His body was in a pod, already aged to about 12 or so, equipped with basic information about the world and a full vocabulary. His first word is a profanity and is used when the Ark where he became born starts to crash down around him as he hurriedly tries to sever his plastic umbilical cord. He is the only survivor. Along with Click, a humanity-helping robot, and a woolly mammoth Fisher names Protein (just in case he gets hungry), he journeys across a post-apocalyptic America in search of other surviving humans. When he finds another ark with its own helper robot, it seems almost too good to be true….

Like post-apocalyptic Hatchet, but with darker implications about humanity as a species. It’s also really funny. I love that Fisher names the mammoth “Protein”, and Click’s bossiness allows for a lot of comedy. The way things are phrased is quirky, like how Fisher “became born” and wants to avoid “failing to survive”.

This is a really thoughtful, funny, action-packed book for fans of survival books, dystopian settings, and sci-fi robot stuff. The thickness and font size of this book made me think it was for much younger kids, but it’s actually pretty dark and disturbing, so I’d reserve it for older kids who like thin books with lots of action.

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The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay

by Suzanne Collins

Yes, everyone has already reviewed this. But I wanted my say too. I watched Battle Royale long before I read this book, and even though the concept is a pretty clear rip off, I still enjoyed Collins’s take on it. The games are brutal and are described brilliantly, and I appreciate a book that doesn’t shy away from the feel-bad vibes of killing a lovable character here and there. I’m a sucker for strong female characters and emotionally complex relationships, which is why I loved the first book when I read it. Katniss is described as having olive skin, which I read as her being mixed race or at least not explicitly white. I really appreciated it, and I think it is just more realistic in a story set in the future. As a side note, I felt really betrayed when I learned that the casting call for Katniss in the movie was explicitly for whites only. Read this for more thoughts on the race issues with the movie.

Before all this movie business came out, I read Catching Fire and I continued to enjoy Katniss’s rejection of all romantic attention directed toward her. The book was a pretty big copy/paste of the first book with a few tweaks here and there, but if I could enjoy The Hunger Games after Battle Royale, what was one more variation of the same story? The book annoyingly ended on a cliff-hanger, so I toiled and toiled until the third book came out….

All for nought. While The Hunger Games was one of the best books I read the year it came out, Mockingjay was one of the worst. It’s not even that bad if you compare it to other YA novels or even other dystopian novels, but I was comparing it to the first two novels in the series. It’s like Collins got wrapped up in the surge of feedback she was getting from teen fans online, and decided to make it about romance instead of about kicking oppressive government butt. Katniss spends most of the book nearly catatonic over who she will choose to be her boyfriend. I couldn’t be more disappointed if she ended up marrying a Mormon vampire. There is a tragic twist at the end that I found to be an emotional cheap shot, and the way Katniss makes her “big decision” (no, not about taking down the government–about who she will date, sillyhead!) is too convenient and predictable to give this book any compliments other than “great action sequences.” They are pretty good action sequences, though.

I recommend dystopia-lovers to read the first book. It stands alone quite nicely, and trust me when I tell you that it’s not worth it to read on.

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The Gryphon Project

by Carrie Mac

Phoenix lives in a world where science has advanced enough to be able to give people a second chance at life. Actually, a lot of people get four. Depending on what class you are, you can be brought back to life up to three times, provided your death was an accident. Phoenix has had two accidents already. She is jealous of her superstar athlete brother, Gryphon, who has never died.

Until one night he does. The circumstances of his death are mysterious enough that the governing body has ruled his death a suicide, and are refusing to bring him back. But what really happened? Phoenix is determined to figure out what really happened to her brother.

I had high expectations for this book, because I think Carrie Mac usually skillfully weaves her social conscience into her books, and her stories are usually very creative. I liked the idea of the society Mac painted in this book, but I did not particularly enjoy any of the characters. The writing was even less likable than the extremely shallow characters. Everything was revealed so awkwardly in the beginning, with characters basically saying “I know you’ve told me this already, but let’s hear it one more time for the readers’ sake.” When the mystery starts to unfold, the only action keeping the story going Gryphon’s friends telling Phoenix that she will have to wait for them to tell her. Mac also tries to bring “issues” into the book, but it’s done more didactically than an after-school special from the 80’s. A mulligan in Mac’s career, but hopefully she’ll be up to Droughtlanders-level quality with her next one.

Set in British Columbia, so BC teens may enjoy it for the setting. Fans of dystopian books may enjoy the premise.

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Shadow Children: Among the Hidden

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Luke has always been in hiding. He is a “shadow child,” a child born to a family that already has two children. Ever since the food crisis that started before Luke was born, the government has made it illegal to have more than two children. For Luke, that means staying hidden or risking being put to death.

His life is already limited, but when the government starts cutting down the woods that surround his home in order to make way for a new housing development, Luke can’t even go outside anymore. When he realizes that one of the new families on the block also has a third child, he has to decide how much he is willing to risk for some companionship and, ultimately, for his freedom.

This is the first book in the Shadow Children series. Like Haddix’s Missing series, this one has a lot of intrigue and suspense. I read up to the fourth or fifth book in the series and quit. The story is compelling enough and I got more than halfway through the series before the logic/common sense gaps in the story got too annoying for me.

Not for super-sensitive readers, since it is basically a story about a government that hunts and kills children, but kids who like stories of spies and intrigue will most likely enjoy it.

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Salt

by Maurice Gee

When the Whips come to Blood Burrow and round up people for Company’s salt mines, they don’t get everyone. But they do get Tarl, Hari’s father. He is marked for transport to Deep Salt, a place from which no one ever returns. Hari promises his father he will save him and get his revenge on Company. Lo has told him the story of when Company first arrived in the town of Belong and traded with the locals until the locals understood they had become Company’s slaves. The people of Belong revolted and threw their oppressors off a cliff until Company retreated. But Company came back in full force and threw the people of Belong off a cliff and set up an empire in Belong, pushing any survivors to the burrows. Lo also taught Hari how to communicate with humans and animals without speaking.

Pearl is from a Company family and has had a different education, with one similarity: she has been taught by her maid, Tealeaf, to communicate telepathically. When a marriage is arranged between Pearl and a power-hungry older man named Ottmar, Pearl and Tealeaf escape and head into the wild. There they cross paths with Hari, whose first instinct is to kill Pearl. But they will all have to work together to stop Company and the cycle of violence it has brought to Belong.

I’m a sucker for post-colonialist fiction, but you don’t have to be to enjoy this book. There’s a lot of brutal violence, supernatural abilities, and survival stuff in there too! Easily one of my favourite reads in the last year, but I’m reluctant to ruin it by reading the sequel. It always ruins it for me when romance comes into the picture. Still, I’m impressed by Gee’s ability to weave issues of race and colonialism and the cycle of violence into such a gripping adventure story.

Definitely a recommended read for teens and adults who can handle dark, thoughtful reads.

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