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…Stealing Phoenix by Joss Stirling

imageThis was a good follow up to book one and it was nice to come back to the series after a long break. Initially, I didn’t warm to Phoenix’s character as much as I had Sky and Crystal (I’d actually skipped this book when I read the others in 2013, thinking that the story in the third book sounded better than this one, so I read them out of order. Strangely, that isn’t an issue really with this series as each book is in a different location and comes as first person narrative from a different female lead each time).

Anyway, in the first few chapters it was the action and pace that kept me going. Phoenix’s world is not a pleasant one and her life is hard, so I think that’s why I struggled to enjoy her story. However, once she meets Yves and the whole ‘soul finder’ thing kicks in, you see the best parts of her character and strengths that she doesn’t see in herself normally. When you read a first person narration from someone who isn’t confident, I can see why they are hard to like…they don’t like themselves. It’s only when you begin to see the true character of Phoenix, reflected back into the story through her interactions with Yves that you get to see the best in her.

I will admit, I’m not sure what I think of the ‘soul finder’ thing in this book. It feels more forced than the other two I’ve read, where the characters have at least some interaction with one another, before the soul finder part happens. It’s quite like the ‘imprinting’ thing in Twilight (which I really didn’t like in that series because of the weirdness with age differences, etc.) Anyway, with soul finders, they have to be a Savant (magical person, of course) and be born around the same time, the idea being that they are two parts of a single whole, thus the drive to get together in the first place and soul mate importance of holding onto that person when you found them… It seems that not many Savants find their special person under normal circumstances. Anyway, if you hate ‘instalove’ this might put you off, although it’s interesting seeing how Phoenix questions the bond and impact it has on her for much of the book, so it’s not too cheesy on that side of things.

As with the other books in this series, the writing is good and action/twists abound as you go through the story. The savant/supernatural parts are good, but not over relied on for the action, and the relationship between Phoenix and Yves is interesting, very differnt from the pairings in the other books.

I really liked Yves…how his mind seems to work, his approach to life, and firey spirit, which contrasts strongly with the logical, academic, side of his personality. I’d really like to see a snapshot book from his point of view, like you saw in ‘Challenging Zed’, to see what he’s like when it’s not through the filter of Phoenix’s eyes.

Overall, a quick and enjoyable read, comparable to the others in the series. If you liked them, I’m sure you’ll like this 🙂