Tag Archives: dystopian

Downsiders

Author: Neil Shusterman

Downsiders, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

In the wake of her parents’ separation and her mother’s latest whimsy (a long-term trip to Africa), Lindsey finds herself shunted off to New York to live with her distracted father and her odious step-brother Todd. Meanwhile, deep beneath that same city, Talon finds himself challenging the precepts and perspectives of his own culture–a people who live beneath the city with their own noble way of life, isolated from the Upsiders whom they view as stupid. And when these two teenagers’ worlds collide, the result is staggering . . . possibly even devastating to both worlds.

Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, as is pretty obvious just from this blog. His books have such a different way of viewing things; they’ve very unique. Downsiders is true to his norm in that it’s quite different from anything I’ve ever read, but it’s also pretty different from any of Shusterman’s other writing. While there are aspects that are similar, I’m not sure I could have picked him out as the author if I hadn’t known. The pacing, while great for this story, is slower than in a lot of his books, and there just isn’t quite as much spark . . . I don’t know how else to put it. Also, the flavor is almost–I want to say Dickensian, but that’s not quite right–it’s as close as I can get to describing it, in any case. Still, while all that sounds kind of negative, I did actually enjoy this book. The concept of a complete, isolated culture living in the abandoned tunnels and forgotten structures beneath New York City is fascinating, and the actual development of this culture in the book was well written. The characters were also believable, and the choices and changes they went through during the course of the story felt true, honest–and important to us as readers because of that. The ending, largely due to those decisions being honest choices not fairy-tale ones, is both beautiful and bittersweet; the story is better for its being so. I wouldn’t recommend Downsiders for everyone, but if you’ve got the patience to dig into it, this book is a rewarding read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Scythe

Author: Neal Shustermanscythe

Arc of a Scythe, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

In a world where all the needs of humanity are met, where even death is reversible, Scythes stand apart as essentially the only remaining source of true death. Established as a sacred trust to ensure that the booming and aging population does not completely overrun the earth and exhaust its resources, Scythes kill–or “glean” as they call it–although not nearly enough to mimic the effects of normal death in the past. One such Scythe, Faraday, has chosen to take on not one but two apprentices, in opposition to the traditions of the Scythedom. But the other Scythes turn his decision against him, deciding that only one of his apprentices will survive the apprenticeship, killing the other apprentice. Scythe apprentices Citra and Rowan will not readily bend to this edict, however, regardless of the pressure put upon them–particularly considering the feelings they have for one another.

I know all the premises of Scythe sound really weird and dark and complicated–and they are. A huge chunk of this book is set up and world building and background, which is completely necessary to understand the story as it develops. But Neal Shusterman is such an incredible author that the background doesn’t feel like an info dump at all; rather it’s interwoven as a part of the story such that you don’t even realize you’re being fed these huge chunks of backstory. As for the premise, strange as it is, it works remarkably well and allows the author to focus in on several interesting philosophical and psychological points. In this world, humanity really wants for nothing. Death–however much focus may be put on it due to the Scythes’ part in the story–is incredibly unlikely for any given individual within the next century or so. Even apparent age can be turned back so that a centenarian can appear (and feel) twenty again. In this state, Shusterman draws attention to the stagnation that occurs when people don’t have anything to struggle for, any clock to race against. On the other side of society, he brings in some interesting observations regarding the sort of people who would be chosen to be Scythes–and the effect that such a horrendous job would have on those people. Add to all the interesting world building some absolutely stellar characters and an intense, rather horrifying plot, and you’ve got an incredible book. I would highly recommend Scythe, although I would also caution a certain level of reader maturity due to the violent focus of the story at times. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume in this set!

As an aside, is the cover of the book not just fabulous?!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Blackthe coldest girl in coldtown

My rating: 4 of 5

Tana lives in a world fascinated by death. Vampirism has seen an unprecedented spread across the nations, like some terrible plague. But mostly, anymore, it’s a plague that is contained, locked away in “Coldtowns” where it won’t touch people’s normal lives. Children watch TV shows broadcast from within these Coldtowns and see a life portrayed as glamorous . . . and even though it means death, they think they want it. Not Tana though. She’s seen what it’s like to be turned first-hand, and she wants no part of it. But when a normal high-school party turns into a tragedy, she finds herself dragged straight to the Coldtown she wanted to avoid, protecting her ex-boyfriend Aiden from himself and helping a vampire boy, Gavriel, against her better judgment. But no matter how deep she is dragged, Tana is determined to do whatever it takes to go home.

Having just recently complained about the excess of vampire stories in contemporary literature, I find myself in the awkward position of having read and enjoyed one. To be fair, I didn’t realize The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a vampire story until after I started reading, and by then I was too into the story to stop. Plus, Holly Black’s a great author, so it was worth at least giving it a try. I did appreciate that, while it is a vampire story, the setting feels almost more zombie/post-apocalyptic. The whole socio-economic setup, as well as the actual dynamics of how vampirism works were well developed and original in this book, making it definitely more than your typical “girl meets vampire” story, although there ends up being some of that as well (you have been warned). The writing style and story development worked quite nicely as well, although I found it awkward that the plot mostly focused on present-tense Tana but also occasionally drifted to other people and other times. I would have preferred sticking to just one, or maybe having a few consistent points of view that are distinctly separated and labelled. Another thing that I found . . . uncomfortable about this book was the excessive emphasis on the topic of death–both in the story and in quotations at the chapter heads lauding death in various aspects. I know the story is dark anyhow, but maybe it pushes the topic a bit far. Or maybe that’s just me. Just, if you struggle with this topic, exercise caution about reading this book, that’s all. I really enjoyed the character development, especially in Tana. She’s not your typical heroine, neither is she totally pure and idealized, but she’s willing to push against the flow, find the truth in the midst of the glamour, and do what is necessary even if it’s not pretty. I think that if you enjoy YA paranormal stories with a darker tinge, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown might be an enjoyable story for you. I enjoyed it in spite of myself.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review

Sunshine

Author: Robin McKinleysunshine

My rating: 5 of 5

Rae’s mom would be perfectly happy if her daughter spent her entire life being your average barely-graduated-high-school baker with a slightly bad-boy boyfriend (maybe husband at some point)–and she would especially be happy if Rae completely avoided all contact with or allusions to her dad’s entire side of the family with their dangerous magic handling. As a matter of fact, Rae (or Sunshine as she’s known to just about everyone for her obsession with sunlight) would have been just as happy to make giant cinnamon rolls and millions of muffins for the rest of her life too. But things change, and one evening’s drive out to the lake (which should have been perfectly safe) leads to a traumatic encounter with a group of vampires, and perhaps more significantly with herself and her own latent, untrained powers. And suddenly, Sunshine’s life is irrevocably changed in more ways that she even realizes.

Sunshine is pretty much one of my favorite books ever–one of those that I’ve read so many times that I only let myself read it every few years anymore. I mean really, awesome urban fantasy, vampires, and cinnamon rolls–what’s not to love? Plus of course, Robin McKinley is an incredible author; one of the best, in my opinion. The flow, the language, the atmosphere, the characters, and the interworkings of all the tiny details of this story are just perfectly crafted to work together and really allow the reader the fullest possible experience of Sunshine’s story. I love Sunshine’s character. It’s not often that I find a brassy, relatively-uneducated character like her that I really relate to, but she’s pretty much wonderful and so human. I also find it fascinating that McKinley is basically re-telling the story of Beauty and the Beast (for the third time) in this book–using a vampire as the Beast! That’s pretty novel, I must say, but it works brilliantly, especially in the setting she’s built here. Also notable, if you’ve read many of her other books, this one’s a bit racier than most–sex comes up multiple times throughout, and there’s some more adult language at places as well–so I’d say this is a 16+ (although I was definitely younger the first time I read this, and was duly shocked at times. Oops.). For adults who enjoy vampire stories (in a non-Twilight sense, promise) and even more for those who like solid urban fantasy, I think Sunshine is an incredible story that I wish a lot more people would read. Highly recommended.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review

Kieli: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness

Author: Yukako Kabeikieli

Illustrator: Shunsuke Taue

Kieli, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The world Kieli inhabits is cold and dilapidated, a godless people ruled by a militant Church that knows nothing of grace or mercy, whatever they may say. Small wonder then, that Kieli prefers the company of ghosts over that of the living around her. Something begins to change, though, when she encounters a young man sitting alone in the train station, looking like the dead–especially when she finds he is able, like herself, to see the spirits of the dead. Unable to resist, or unable to lose the one person who shares her abilities, Kieli sneaks out of the Church-run boarding school where she lives and follows this unusual man who goes by the name Harvey. Together, the two proceed on Harvey’s purposed journey by train to deliver an old radio inhabited by a ghost to an abandoned mine, little guessing that someone else is also following. Because Harvey isn’t just an ordinary young man; he’s an ageless, deathless soldier created nearly a century before to end the War, one of the legendary Undying . . . and now the Church is ruthlessly hunting down their own creations.

I had heard good things about this light novel before, so I was excited to read Kieli. I have to be honest, it was mostly those expectations that kept me reading beyond the first half of the first chapter; there’s a lot about Kieli’s past, the War, and the emptiness of the Church that is really important background information but was hard to get into. But once I got past that to the part where Harvey enters the story and they’re traveling together, I really enjoyed the story. It would be a difficult story to really categorize: paranormal, science fiction, steampunk, dystopian, and several other things kind of meshed together. But it really works, feeling like its own unique genre rather than a mish-mash of multiple other genres. The majority of the story is a train journey, so you get the experience of the country they’re traveling through and the people they meet. And of course, the adventure of their being pursued and trying to evade capture. But most of all, the story is the development of the characters and the relationships between them: Kieli, Harvey, the Corporal who haunts the ghost radio. I’ve heard the book described (on the back cover, no less) as a romance, but I really don’t quite see it, although I can definitely see it developing into a romance in future volumes. For now, Kieli’s too young, and she and Harvey are really still just building a trust and friendship with each other. In any case, I truly enjoyed reading Kieli: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness, and I look forward to reading further in the series.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Review

Tsubasa: Those With Wings

Mangaka: Natsuki TakayaTsubasa those with wings

My rating: 3.5 of 5

As one of the outcast “Nameless” (her society’s term for orphans), Kotobuki has had to make her own way in the world–which she’s done by becoming a fairly skillful thief. The one person who always seems to be able to catch her in the act is an elite member of the military by the name of Raimon. Only Raimon seems completely uninterested in arresting her; he’d rather gaze at her adoringly and maybe offer her a candy bar. Eventually, Kotobuki decides to take the high road and become an upstanding citizen who works for a living . . . if only it were that easy to get a job! Lucky her (?) Raimon decides to quit the military and become her traveling companion, providing when she can’t find work. It’s got to be love (or at least obsession).

As a huge fan of Fruits Basket, I’ve been trying to find more of Takaya-sensei’s manga to try. Tsubasa is one of her earlier works, and it shows in somewhat more cliche plotlines and characters, as well as in a slightly less mature art style. But there are a lot of things about this manga that simply scream Takaya-sensei as well: the deep, dark pasts; the sweet, innocent girl who changes everything; the unexpected romances; the insane obsessions. Really, this is quite an enjoyable shoujo sci-fi manga–best for a bit older audiences, though. Partly because of the nudity and ecchiness at parts; moreso because of characters like Raimon who have really unhealthy motives that would be really bad for younger kids to read about and imitate. I do find it interesting that, although it’s called Tsubasa, the tsubasa don’t actually become a serious focus of the story until about halfway through; until then it’s much more slice-of-life focused on Kotobuki’s job search and her growing relationship with Raimon. But I do have to say that, when they do come in, the tsubasa are one of my favorite parts of the story, especially Rikuro. And, typical of Takaya-sensei, there’s a huge cast of unexpected and interesting characters–including an unlikely gang of thieves who strangely remind me of Team Rocket! All told, I think Tsubasa: Those With Wings is a good manga for people who already like Natsuki Takaya’s writing to try–and bonus, it’s only three volumes long, so it’s a pretty quick read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Floodland

Author/Illustrator: Marcus SedgwickFloodland

My rating: 4 of 5

Ten-year-old Zoe lives in a world that has been overwhelmed by water. She’s never known anything else, but she knows the world wasn’t always this way. . . . And she knows it’s getting worse. A while back, as food supplies became more scarce and the small island that used to be Norwich continued to shrink, her family escaped on a ship to the larger landmass to the west. But in the confusion of the departure, Zoe got left in Norwich on her own. Now she is setting forth alone in a rowboat across the floods to find her family and a safe place to live, equipped with nothing but her father’s old compass.

Floodland is the first Sedgwick that I’ve read, and it definitely made me want to read more. It’s quite short and easy to read, making it a nice, quick read–and it’s appropriate for middle-grade readers as well as young adults (and adults). The writing style is enjoyable, and the characters and observations are interesting. There’s a good balance between the action and the more psychological aspects, which makes it much more enjoyable that it would otherwise be. Probably one of the most interesting facets of the book is when it takes place. You hear plenty about “global warming” and “protecting the planet”–but it hits you in a very different way when you hear the story from the perspective of a kid who knows nothing except a planet that’s already devastated. Plus, the flooded-earth plot choice was a really nice change from the post-apocalyptic dystopian stuff you usually see when you’re talking about ruining the earth. My one complaint was that the end seemed too perfect; I don’t think most people would react in the way Zoe did. But then, her being ten makes it more likely, and it’s nice in that it gives the story a hopeful conclusion. I guess it’s appropriate, especially considering that this is for pre-teen readers as well as YA. All in all, Floodland was a though-provoking, intriguing story that I would generally recommend to most readers.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review