These days everything seems to me like a parable, even parables like this one seem to be parables of parables. This is a story about America, gone to the bad. God knows what has happened to it — maybe I ought to have read the prequel, but I didn’t really mind, because it already seemed rather more familiar than I liked. Middle America (never really home to civilisation) has exposed its underbelly: it is nasty, superstitious, ignorant, intolerant; people are commodities, slavery is pretty close, brute power wins. And the world at the edges is technologically more advanced (yes, certainly, it was always that), and intellectually more sophisticated (that too) but also insular, xenophobic, seedy and cruel. The world post apocalypse didn’t seem so different from that rambling country I have visited (several times), driven through (once), and felt perplexed by (all my life) — I grew up with it always distant and foreign but there, like the cities of the book, at the edge of my consciousness. I never felt fond of it. Perhaps I found a kind of schadenfreude, viewing this depiction of its decline into a parody of itself.
A lot of “strange-ing” is done in this book — the heroine viewing with wide eyes the world around her, with its relics of the current world whose past significance she does not know and generally guesses wrong. Some of this is amusing. Some of it goes a little far and is really a bit irritating. When I got irritated, I told myself it was a parable about America trying to look at itself — holding up its mirror and saying “what on earth is all this for?” I forgave it then. Just like I forgave Althea for being just a bit too sweet and good, always the one who could help other people, always innocent, always on the right side, always the object of desire. I told myself this was America trying to justify itself, presenting itself the way it wants to be seen. We all do that. We’re all the hero in our story about ourselves.
But stop, I’m being fanciful. These are simply the tricks by which I read a book which is not meant for people of my age or disposition (I’m old and cantankerous) or my politics or my preoccupations (read my blog if you want to know those). This is a writer who writes for conventional young women, teenagers probably. The heroine of this book is only eleven, but she’s already sexualised in the book, with a boyfriend and coupling in mind, though of course she’s a virtuous girl and knows this isn’t the time. Pretty much all of this author’s (extraordinarily numerous) books have gorgeous young women on the covers, all flowing hair and luscious lips, all apparently arian, sexy of course (America requires that), but only in the most chaste and virtuous ways (which is equally mandatory): they are the kind of girls who appear in pageants and want to work with children and save the world. I expect they do that in the books. Althea, though a little younger, is one of that tribe, and thus she is depicted on the cover, not as an eleven year old, but as a luscious thing. I assume these are the girls that his readers want to be, and having read this book, the role model, though sometimes irritating, seems otherwise unobjectionable. At least she has agency. She is bright and brave and thinks about things. She is her own creature. She has adventures (lots of them, it’s a meandering cross country tour of a novel). She declines in the end to be anyone’s property (I gather that in some prequel it was not always so). Best of all she’s a bit of a smart aleck and borders, occasionally, on badass. She even manages not to have the clichéd green eyes of so many of this author’s covers (I have publicly declared I will never review a book whose heroine has those…) and the luminous blue ones she does have seem (though I wasn’t interested) to have some other purpose than to declare her alluring, as the green ones invariably do. So I cannot object to her. But even as a teenager, that wasn’t what I wanted, so this book wasn’t written for me.
For this reason I’ve reproduced the average Amazon rating here, rather than trying to give it one of my own. This author is accomplished and writes well. His dialogue is deft. His plotting competent. He pulls the reader in — even me from time to time — and he creates a world that has depth and colour and flavour. He is a master of his craft, and I am sure that the many rave reviews are well earnt. If you aren’t old, and cantankerous and cynical, there is every possibility that you will love this book. Almost certainly your teenage daughters will, if you catch them at the right moment. So go for it. I recommend it.
Amazon average rating at March 2020 – 4.5:
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Mathew S Cox About the Author
Originally from South Amboy NJ, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Since 1996, he has developed the “Divergent Fates” world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, The Awakened Series, The Harmony Paradox, the Prophet of the Badlands series, and the Daughter of Mars series take place.
His books span adult, young-adult, and middle-grade fiction in multiple genres, predominantly science fiction, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy.
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, developer of two custom tabletop RPG systems, and a fan of anime, British humour, and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of humanity, reality, life, and what might happen after it.
He is also fond of cats, presently living with two: Loki and Dorian.