Tag Archives: dystopian

Just Finished…The Testing Trilogy

Maybe an odd few spoilers in here, so tread carefully, just as you might if you were going through The Testing yourself! 🙂

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read the three books that make up ‘The Testing’ trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau. I think I downloaded the first book in the series a year or so ago, when it was on a free Amazon download day… I picked it up because it was pegged as being for ‘fans of the Hunger Games…’ and with a blurb like this, you can see why:

Testing

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career. 

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

See? Handsome boy from your home sector – check. Students chosen from outer colonies to come to the capital city for ‘Testing’ – check. Deadly competition and questionable morals amongst the candidates, check and check!

I think it was the reported similarities to The Hunger Games that made me avoid reading this for so long. I loved The Hunger Games: the competition, the rebellion, Katniss and Peeta (yep, Team Peeta, not the other guy – Katniss is the narrator and you never got the romance vibe from her in relation to him, did you?) The relationships between the characters as well, from Rue and Haymitch, through to Finnick and Mags – they all had good depth and realism, which I loved throughout that series and for me made it very strong.

Anyway, I’d not read any YA dystopian for a while and so I picked this up in the end and gave it a whirl – and it was worth it! Book one was good, book two was even better I thought – it moved further away from the Hunger Games-esque arena and built out it’s own world and plot.

After blasting through the first two books in this trilogy, I did stall a bit when it came to ‘Graduation Day’. I really liked the world built up in the first two books and in a way, keeping Cia’s world more compact (either controlled as part of the Testing, or built around her place at University) made her actions and the scale of the story realistic.

When we move to the final installment Cia doesn’t seem as ‘changed’ as she continually tells you that she is – this was something that started to grate on me a little in this final book. It felt like there was a lot more tell over show in this part and the characters that you were familiar with from books one and two began to feel a little more like cardboard cut-outs, despite the fact that you knew them already and could have seen their behaviours come out, rather than Cia telling you how she was interpreting things.

Overall, after two good books with plenty of pace and action, bounded nicely within the areas they were set inside, the third one fell flat. The various climactic elements left me a bit cold if I’m honest, which is a shame as the set up was good. I think for me – as some other reviewers pick up – things became quite unrealistic in the third book: the scope of what Cia got tasked with seemed inconsistent with the scale of everything else happening around her and her ever-present bag of magic tricks became a crutch. How could they be advance enough to manipulate genetics and do complex chemical engineering to revitalise their world, but not have anything more than basic communications, which a university student can apparently knock together in a workshop pretty quickly.

This is a good series and some comparisons to The Hunger Games are fair, particularly in the first book. But by the second it does stride out in its own direction, which I really enjoyed – the third book delivers many of the answers following the set up in the other books, it just didn’t grip me to the end as I hoped it might.

Overall I’d rate the series 4* – it is very readable and enticed me enough to buy the next two books in the series, having read the first one for free. I would have just liked something more, something different from the ending that was delivered.

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Just Finished…Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Uglies

Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license – for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.

The choice Tally makes changes her world forever…

Uglies, Cover

This was a well-written book, but I have to say I just really didn’t buy into the concept, story and characters as much as I thought I would. It felt like some things happened, just because they HAD to… I found it difficult to get beyond a superficial reading, just as I found the first half of the book (the ‘pretty’ focused part) superficial. Tally wasn’t my favourite choice as a heroine: she was fickle, easily persuaded, but then chose to be stubborn at the most ridiculous moments… I know ‘uglies’ were meant to have been coddled in their city life, but it felt very unrealistic to me. In general, I felt Shay was more committed and questioning than Tally. In a couple of scenes, I did really believe in Tally, particularly the one where she sits in front of the mirror examining the detail and imperfections of her face – that felt very ‘real’ and is something I imagine all teenage girls do at some point, criticising the reflection that stares back at them. But, for me it was one of the only scenes we saw any depth to Tally’s character. Beyond this, she was just a name to me, faceless rather than ugly.

The dystopian world around Uglyville and New Pretty Town (yes, those are names of places…) the former world of the Rusties, was more realistic for me and there were interesting elements: the parasite in oil that destroyed the old world; the desertification of huge areas, through GM crop mistakes; the Smoke was also reasonable for a survivalist camp. I enjoyed the second part of the book much more than the first and some of the characters introduced (such as David and his parents) we’re good.

Some things jarred in the narration for me: a description of Tally feeling like she was graduating from riding a tricycle to a motorbike… In a world that didn’t have motorbikes – how could that feeling being attributed to her character? The language of their world became hard going at times, everything pretty or ugly… And every name of a group: Smokies, Pretties, Uglies, Rusties… I would have appreciated some more variety.

Overall, it is a quick read and written well-enough to keep the story going. It just wasn’t realistic enough a world for me for a dystopian. If they wanted pliable citizens, why do they give the Uglies so much freedom? Why do Pretty Rangers help Smokies? Why do they allow law breakers back into their system, but are ruthless with the Smokies? It’s possible that all these questions might be answered in book 2, but as I already know that is set firmly in Pretty Town, I’m not sure I can face it… It’s what the future looks like if we all turn into the cast of TOWIE – so maybe it IS a dystopian nightmare 🙂

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Just Finished…Medusa by Tony Talbot

Medusa by Tony Talbot

Medusa by Tony Talbot

Well, I finally got the time to knuckle down to some reading for fun in the last few weeks and it has started really well: I just finished Tony Talbot’s great new book Medusa. This is the second book of Tony’s I’ve read and I was not disappointed.

We meet Lissa Two – captain of a strange ship with some interesting technical skills – in an apparently post-apocalyptic world of water. Giant ‘seasteads’ form the main areas of civilisation and Lissa uses her ship – Connie – and the particular powers she has, to salvage items for sale in the underground souks in her own seastead home. A random meeting with a man thrown from a strange flying machine; the mysterious disappearance of an apparently strong seastead and Lissa’s own questions about Connie provide the ingredients for a fast-paced, cocktail of adventure.

I really like Tony’s writing style, he has a real way with words (helpful if you’re a writer, I know!) But what I mean, what really stands out in this book for me, was his ability to create a world you felt completely transported to: there is beautiful description throughout the book, whilst he walks his characters through the fast-paced plot, leaving you the feeling that you could reach out and touch the world Lissa inhabits. Now and again, I would find myself noticing something, not because it jarred, but because it just flowed so naturally. Unfortunately, some of the best examples I highlighted would need spoilers to explain – so I’d say you have to check it to know what I mean.

Medusa is one of those books you get sucked into quickly and struggle to find a place to pause, when reading – you just want to know ‘what next’ the whole time. Especially once Lissa’s questions start taking her down interesting paths, it gets even harder to stop: I read the second half of the book in one day. And it was worth it! 🙂

Overall, I’m going 4.5* for Medusa, I thought the characters, pace and writing in the book was even better than Eight Mile Island, the main reason it gets the same rating is because I loved the way EMI sucker punched me in it’s concluding chapters. I didn’t get quite the same left-field shock as I did with that one, but overall, I would say I enjoyed Medusa more and if you’re thinking of trying one of Tony’s books, this is the one I’d recommend.

Recommended for: fans of dystopian YA / post-apocalyptic world settings; I think people who liked the relationships in Angelfall would enjoy this, as well as Hunger Games / Blood Red Road fans looking for something with a feisty female protagonist in an unusual setting.

 

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