[REVIEW] Idyll – James Derry

IDYLL_Cover2cSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Their loss was like the sea. When judged with distance, it seemed placid, something ethereal, something that could be abided. But to dwell on their loss, to give in to close scrutiny, led to turmoil. They might start to wallow; they might drown. Fixating on their grief, drawing it close and making it the dominant geological feature of their lives, would be a very bad thing. Then again, ignoring that absence entirely could be just as bad.”

Review
A bizarre plague named The Lullaby has Mother Earth’s second chance, Idyll, in its deadly grasp, and it seems that the only guaranteed way to survive is permanent quarantine. Three years after their father left in search of answers, Walt and Sam finally decide that they’ve had enough of hiding and move on from the family ranch to track him down. Travelling through decimated cities forgotten by everyone but faceless monsters, the brothers take their chances on a journey with their infected mother to find a cure and reunite their family.

Carefully and gradually terraformed over hundreds of years, Idyll has been shaped with the best parts of Earth in mind ready for colonisation. Rid of the unnecessary technology and life-extending pharmaceuticals we have come to rely upon, Idyll has been cultivated on the basis of earning your place, proving your worth and allowing natural selection to do her work. Beginning with the humble and tender care of earthworms and insects, generation after generation of the Starboard family has been trusted to farm creatures great and small. Now experienced ranchers, it is a large responsibility that Sam and Walt must leave behind, in the hope of a better life in the capital – Marathon.

The terror of falling into an endless sleep, infecting anyone close enough to hear the endless comatose mumbling of the trigger phrase, is exceptionally psychologically haunting. Destined to waste away and doom the people you love, The Lullaby is a brilliantly crafted motivator behind the narrative and poses much more than simple mortal threats. The details of the epidemic are well thought-out and small nods to its origins and purpose are intelligently woven into the story through short interludes. The reveal is intensely satisfying with every small piece of the puzzle falling logically into place in way that makes sense while still managing to catch you by surprise.

Our narrators’ opposing personalities make their interactions tense and intriguing, as while they have the same ultimate goals, Walt and Sam must juggle their differing methods and come to terms with their changing priorities. At times, Walt and Sam can be more alike than they realise, the dual narrative giving the reader an insight into how their time in quarantine has both wrenched them apart and solidified their shared morals and values.

Miriam and Virginia are fiery characters who push the brothers beyond their comfort zone and give them something tangible to fight for. With a mother wasting away on Walt’s basic medical training and a father they can only dream of finding, Miriam and Virginia keep them focussed on the road ahead. The sisters struck me in particular as, while they are manipulative and brave, they are still vulnerable and scared. They are neither damsels in distress nor one dimensional strong female characters, they are an honest blend of the two, characters that science fiction and YA needs right now more than ever.

From scientific discussions of the primordia teeming on the planet to the soft glow of the sister moons, it is apparent that a large amount of care and attention to detail has been paid in crafting the world of IDYLL. With a bittersweet ending that plays hope against despair, IDYLL is an exciting and heart-stopping race across a tragically beautiful new planet. Exploring both the physical and psychological effects of a sleeping curse-like plague, IDYLL challenges the reader to delve deeper into the story to discover what really caused the world to fall apart.

I received IDYLL from James Derry in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

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[REVIEW] Way Down Dark – JP Smythe

25202767Summary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
World building – 2/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“Don’t die.”

Review
The first novel of the Australia Trilogy, WAY DOWN DARK is another addition to the ever-growing dystopian YA genre. I picked it up after seeing a lot of hype on Twitter but unfortunately was left feeling a little let down.

We follow the story of orphaned Chan aboard the good (space)ship Australia. The huge vessel embarked from a dying Earth hundreds of years before she was born, searching endlessly for a new planet to call home. Chan has learnt to keep her head down and live in her mother’s memory but when the vicious Lows decide to spread out and take her territory by force, she has to decide whether to stick by her rules or sacrifice her safety to help others.

Whilst I found WAY DOWN DARK a reasonably enjoyable read, I just couldn’t squash the feeling that I’d read it all before. Many aspects of the storyline are eye-rollingly stereotypical and it was far too easy to pigeonhole characters into their prescribed tropes. Chan is the feisty female protagonist, orphaned on the first page and thrust unwillingly into leadership. Agatha is her mentor and advisor, disapproving and disappointing but somehow she always manages to come through in the end. Rex is the one-dimensional villain hellbent on utter destruction, her inexplicable hatred for Chan burning with the fire of a thousand suns. And of course there’s the obligatory tease of a love interest.

There wasn’t much complexity in the world-building, limited by the confines of the plot. The inhabitants are unaware of the situation on Earth and which direction they’re floating in, so the social structure of Australia took precedence.

The ship is split down into factions based largely on tired archetypes; religious fanatics, violent lower class savages and genetically engineered warriors. There’s a rebellion of sorts and some exciting battles but ultimately there is a lot of climbing and hiding and gardening in between all the fun parts. And of course when shit finally hits the fan it’s down to the inexperienced, unprepared and seemingly invincible protagonist to save the day.

The style was uncomplicated and relatively easy to digest. With a no nonsense voice, Chan played her part well and I managed to finish WAY DOWN DARK in only a few sittings. Although I found the plot generally predictable, it was still an enjoyable tale that definitely became much more exciting the more I read.

I did occasionally find it difficult to imagine the layout of Australia. The ship I pictured didn’t always seem to fit with how the characters interacted with it and I found it hard to marry everything together. The backdrop is crucial to the atmosphere, especially in such a claustrophobic setting, so I often had to re-read sections to get the story straight in my mind.

The one feature I really took exception to was the few random chapters from Agatha’s viewpoint. They broke up Chan’s narrative to provide some context and background, but they felt lazy to me. I would have much preferred the information being woven into the story naturally rather than shoved in.

Overall, I thought WAY DOWN DARK was a decent read with plenty of bursts of action to keep the story moving. It might be a good introduction to a science fiction style setting for those who aren’t familiar with the genre, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next book in the series.

[REVIEW] Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

SummaryOnly Ever Yours
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 5/5
World building – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“We have never had a class on how to say no to men while simultaneously never saying no to them.”

Review
ONLY EVER YOURS is a dark and disturbing commentary on society’s reckoning of the female role, set in a world far too close for comfort. Women are no longer born, they are created as a reflection of perfection, trained for their entire lives in the art of being female. Each year three times as many eves are created than boys born – these boys grow up knowing the eves’ faces, ranking their fotos regularly to determine who is the most attractive, but they will not meet until the eves are nearing the Ceremony which determines their lives forever.

Kept in solitude during the night, the eves are played ceaseless mantras to wash their thoughts: I am a good girl, I am pretty, I am always agreeable, I always do as I am told. During the day, their appearance is scrutinised, their self-control is tested and they are taught lessons of utmost importance: how to please a man, how to compare themselves to other women, how to serve their purpose.

Best friends freida and isabel are approaching the final year and the stakes are higher than ever. This is the year the Inheritants will make their final judgement and condemn the girls to life as either companion, concubine or chastity. Desperately clinging to her lifelong desire to become an honoured companion, the pressure on freida gradually mounts throughout the story to an excruciating peak. The tension is well-built and well-paced, giving the whole story a creeping sense of unease that stayed with me long after reading the final page.

freida can be a difficult protagonist to like at times due to her behaviour – she makes a string of terrible choices and her justifications are hard to swallow. Having access to her thoughts was a little disturbing too; she is a product of her environment after all. Overall I really enjoyed her as a narrator and felt she gave a very true reflection of life in the world created for her. I felt a little maternal towards her by the end, as even though she made such big mistakes I loved her and just wanted to get in the story to protect her.

It’s made clear from the beginning that isabel is significant, but I could not figure out why until the very end. Keeping everyone guessing, she is enigmatic and mysterious and I couldn’t help but be sucked into the hysteria surrounding her. The other eves all envied her and wanted to know her secrets, look like her and be like her.

The other characters, especially the eves, are presented as extras, a means to an end. To freida they are either competition to beat to win the heart of the boys or tools to exploit in her pursuit. The girls were vapid and soulless, perfectly moulded into the roles prescribed to them. I loved the fiery attitudes of the chastities and felt they added an extra dimension to the secondary characters with their more powerful role in such a heavily patriarchal society.

Stylistically, this book took my breath away and left me reeling. ONLY EVER YOURS is cutting with its honesty and is brutally unforgiving. I watched helplessly as freida pressed the self-destruct button and felt her pain as vividly as if it were my own. Louise O’Neill is to the point and sharp with her words, her style mirroring the themes of the book in perfect harmony. The decision to use lower case letters for female names is so intelligent – it’s such a simple but striking reminder of inferiority throughout the entire novel. It begins to feel almost natural as you turn the pages, so assimilated to the idea by the end.

Deeply emotional and terrifyingly twisted, ONLY EVER YOURS didn’t just break my heart, it ripped it out and took pleasure in stomping all over it. This book should be required reading – as a female of course I am acutely aware of how society treats us and pushes us to think, but freida’s world truly woke me up to the horrors we ignore in everyday life. Yes, it’s speculative fiction, scifi, dystopian… but every moment is based on mountains of truths. It’s opened my eyes to how I think and feel and I certainly won’t be able to let this book go for a long time.

Louise O’Neill’s second novel, ASKING FOR IT, lands on 3rd September 2015. Though it’s bound to be another emotionally draining read with themes of rape culture and victim blaming, I know Louise will handle it with grace, respect and brutal honesty.

[REVIEW] Open Minds – Susan Kaye Quinn

open minds

Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 3/5

In a Tweet
“Mindreading is the new normal but when Kira discovers her developing power is different she realises she needs to step up & expose the truth.”

Review
OPEN MINDS is the first in a trilogy of urban sci-fi novels by Susan Kaye Quinn, set in a silent future in which nearly all humans have evolved to read minds. At 16 Kira is still waiting to become a changeling and fears she will never develop mind reading, leaving her a zero for the rest of her life. However, after accidentally knocking her best friend unconscious with her mind, Kira soon discovers that the power she is developing is far more dangerous and exciting than she ever thought possible. Under the instruction of fellow mindjacker, Simon, Kira hones her skills determined to keep them a secret. But surrounded by mind readers, no secret is safe.

I loved the concept and the ideas behind OPEN MINDS. Kira’s world is completely fitted to accommodate mind readers in every way, from mind controlled cars and appliances to the new social norms of silence and no touching. Every aspect of the world seems well thought out and I love this kind of attention to detail. It’s very easy to dump a story straight into our society, but adapting it and moving it forward is so much more interesting to read.

The actual abilities of mind readers and mind jackers have limitations and individual differences, something I think everything sci-fi/fantasy novel needs. I enjoyed learning more about what Kira could do towards the second half of the book as she starts to experiment, after Simon initially took her under his wing to show her the basics. Of course, as in all YA fiction, our protagonist is the best/strongest/only one who can save the day; the story would have worked fine if Kira was just average. But who wants to read about an average girl?

I found Kira to be quite irritating at times as she had a bit of a Bella Swan attitude in the high school setting. The token love triangle with the old best friend and the new interesting guy annoyed me, especially when it was suddenly resolved it with no real thought process to back it up. Although I am glad it didn’t stretch out much longer, the reasons behind her choices could have been explored a little more.

As soon as Kira got out of the school in the second half she became the biggest badass ever! I absolutely loved her from then on. She saw that the situation and this new power was bigger than her, she saw what was at stake and stepped up. The second half of the book was without a doubt the better half; the pace and excitement picked up and I felt really invested in the plot and Kira’s safety.

The end came very suddenly and felt like a bit of an anticlimax after all the build up of the last few chapters. I honestly thought I’d reached the end of a chapter and there was another one to come. It won’t stop me picking up the next book in the series but everything definitely felt a little too resolved without a dramatic hook ready for CLOSED HEARTS (book two).

Overall, OPEN MINDS was an easy read with a great concept. I’m looking forward to picking up the next books in the series and while it’s not the most thought-provoking or challenging novel, I did enjoy it quite a bit. If you’re struggling through the stereotypical high school drama I would urge you to stick it out; it does get better!

I received OPEN MINDS for free from the lovely people at StoryBundle.com. My reviews always represent my own honest opinion.