This was one of my more anticipated releases this year, but sadly, I can´t say it met my expectations.
Now, I am aware that my expectations and hope was to glide back into the excitement I had when reading Divergent, which isn´t exactly low, but I still feel this didn´t really make it up to all the hype around it.
There is a lot of stuff to touch on with this book, especially because of the many controversies that have emerged with it, so here we go:
(This review will contain mild spoilers)
First of all, the writing.
Usually, when I´m not to impressed by a book, there is at least the writing. Even dull and flat plots can be made interesting with good prose and beautiful, interesting language, but I can´t say Roth´s writing in this is just those things. I didn´t remember it feeling like this from Divergent (keep in mind I read the Swedish translations of Divergent and this in English, it was also before I was “into” reading and I wasn´t very well-versed) but this book just feels…flat. It´s plain and it doesn´t feel particularly interesting or anything. I can´t put my finger on exactly what is missing but I feel like the writing took away a lot for me and made even -what should have been- very exciting moments feel kind of dull.
Second, the characters.
We open up with one of our main characters, Akos. Akos has grown up on the Thuvesit side of the planet in a poorer family. His mother is the Oracle in the city they live in and his father works in the hushflower fields. But, everything changes when he and his brother Eijeh are taken captive to the Shotet – there we meet our other main character (who I think is supposed to be a kind of primary main character?), Cyra.
Cyra has grown up very differently to Akos as she was raised in the family Noavek, the ruling family of the Shotet, the second people living on the planet Thuve.
I thoughts the character ARC´s were ok in this book, not amazing, but not bad. I especially liked how she made Akos a more vulnerable male but still strong instead of “I had a terrible childhood and now I´m all emotionlessly macho“. Yet, I didn´t really connect very much with either of them (main or side characters, with the exception of Cisi). They were still interesting to me (I will get into the Racism and Chronic Pain issues later) and I felt like I wanted to get to know them more, but there was never that emotional relation or involvement. Although, again, the writing kind of knocks it down and makes it feel flat. The characters definitely could have had more depth and other things that defined them apart from the “currentgift” that they develop. Instead, it often feels like their gift is all they are.
When it comes to the romantic relationship between Akos and Cyra I once again can´t say I was very impressed. I felt very predictable and typical, almost like Roth was too busy with the world and space to give them an interesting dynamic that didn´t feel like any YA book (or like Tris and Four for that part. Yes, I´m looking at you Arena scene/end of ch.25. and pretty much all of Tris in all of Allegiant).
I mean, just the way she makes it obvious they like each other feels almost out of place with the rest of the story which is really quite brutal and tragic:
“So it shouldn’t have felt strange that his hip was so close to my stomach, that I could see ropy muscle standing out from his arm.”
And it gets better. Following sentence:
“But it did.”
I just, eh, no. I´m not feeling it.
To be honest, my favorite characters and my favorite relationship was between Isae and Cisi. They had a completely different dynamic and for once it felt like a side character actually was another character and not just another voice, not to mention that their relationship felt like it matched the situation. It didn´t feel stickered in there for the sake of it. Same goes for the friendship between Akos and Orieve, I´d ship them any day in comparison to Akos and Cyra. Even if you only get a glimpse of their relationship, there is a kind of banter between them and they speak to each other in another way that feels more natural and just…good, really.
Thirdly, there is the storyline and the worldbuilding.
When it comes to Sci-fi, I want something that is out of this world (pun intended), I want something that is strange but cool and either super futuristic or just twisted and completely different from our world. I want depth and new concepts -not just our world with two people sharing a planet and a bunch of things that just changed names. Sure, she has put in all the traditional Shotet items, the Current (I can´t have been the only one afraid she was going to rip off the Force from Star Wars until she developed and explained it more throughout), the feathergrass and hushflowers (which were probably some of my favorite things and concepts in the book) and traditions etc. as well as a couple floaters.
But, the thing is, changing the names for things is not worldbuilding.
Seriously, chest-binder instead of bra? izit instead of inch?? tick instead of second or minute???
-No. Thank you very much.
So, all in all. The world is okay. It´s not the worst Sci-fi, but it needs depth. I need more stuff and more things that make me want to go there so I can see it all for myself and marvel at the stars or planets and the scenery.
Then, finally, all the controversy.
What really got my attention before starting this book was seeing all the controversy about ableism, racism and chronic pain surrounding the book. While it did lead to many really interesting and thoughtful and generally awesome conversations and discussions in the book group, I do agree with many of the arguments people have had.
To begin with, there is Cyra´s currentgift of being in constant pain and having these kinds of shadows flowing up and down her skin. While I have to admit I think it´s an interesting idea and concept (I really like the aesthetic of the shadows traveling like veins for ex.) I believe it might be a bit too optimistic to think saying she got the pain as a “gift”, that it really comes and roots in herself and that it makes her stronger and that she is even grateful for it won´t upset people who actually suffer from chronic pain. I don´t personally have it, so I won´t go into detail about it since I don´t have experience or knowledge enough to fairly argument around it, but I can understand that it can almost feel mocking to a person with such a condition to see a character with the same issue and having what makes their life so much harder called a gift. Not to mention that it comes from them. These conditions are nobody´s fault, and saying that it is is just wrong and offensive.
So, I believe it can be interpreted in different ways perhaps, but while I´m not decided on exactly what I feel about it, I know I have problems with it and I think there might have been better ways of doing it.
Another controversy was the alleged racism in the book. I want to start by saying that I do not believe Veronica Roth wanted to be racist in the way the presented the Shotet, their skin color in combination with their traditions or their relationship with the Thuvesit. However, I do once again believe it´s done in a way that is too optimistic. With the kind of history our world has, representation in fair manners are incredibly important and yes it is hard not to make anything a symbolism with anything (hence why I don´t necessarily agree with some very specific parallels people have made) but I think it´s quite clear how the way she presents the Shotet is not exactly elegantly or gracefully done in the least.
And I mean, come on, it´s not exactly a hard solution, is it? She is writing Sci-fi for Christ´s sake! There are possibilities of more skin colors than human skin colors when you are already writing about a whole other planet in a whole other galaxy with people who obviously don´t exist on earth. If she was stuck on the whole ARC of their history and traditions (which I can understand), why not just make them blue? Or green? Why not pink?
I can´t say I´m looking forward to the next book very much, I might read it, I might not. But chances are I won´t re-read this book. It wasn´t the worst I´ve read but having all these things bugging me kind of kept from really enjoying it. The only part that I felt like I really enjoyed was part 4 – which, by the way, did she even write that? It felt completely different from everything else and I almost actually felt excited about stuff!
Although, getting to the “good part” is a little late at 75%..
There are many more things to talk about in this book but if I bring up every single thought this is going to be the length of the book itself, so I´m going to stop at this.
Sorry, Veronica Roth, but I don´t want to read more of this. At least not for now.