Review: If I was the kind of person who had a policy of walking away from a book that didn’t grab me in the first few chapters or first 50 pages (or something similar), I would never have finished this book. Not sure what it was. The relationships didn’t really solidify for me, nor a strong sense of attachment to family and home. Though that is what the words said, I didn’t feel it. And at first the story felt like many YA dystopians I’ve read before. Another version of the same old story.
But…it was the monthly choice for my book club AND I had purchased it last year with a lot of excitement because I’d heard such great things about it, so I persevered, determined to finish the book, and I’m glad that I did. It is still fair to say that it is a lot like other stories I’ve read. It smacks of Hunger Games to be sure, with its caste system and ghoulishly violent competition. However, though the motivations are somewhat similar, there are definitely plot differences that make it stand on its own.
To begin with, the content is a bit more mature. While the characters are children, the competition into which they are thrust is not for the meek or the timid. Most of them are not fighting for their lives, they are fighting for their individual futures. Darrow is fighting for the fate of his people, but only he knows that. Overall, Pierce Brown paints a more brutal, and therefore more realistic, picture of war. There is nothing too savage, no real boundaries to the violence or depraved tactics that will be employed to win the game. Which is not to say that it is horribly graphic. This IS young adult after all. But Brown manages to make the point clear without pushing the envelope too far. He walks that very fine line between YA and adult with the utmost skill.
While the earlier relationships weren’t developed well enough for me to feel attached, the relationships he builds later were quite the opposite. His friendship with several of the boys and his burgeoning romantic relationship, those I was totally sold on. And Darrow’s constant battles within himself, that ever present inner conflict, the questioning and the struggle to keep his broiling rage in check, these I loved. There are a lot of interesting philosophical questions about the difference between right and wrong, whether the end justifies the means, how much we must sacrifice and/or ask of others in order to achieves our goals. All good stuff.
Would I recommend this book? If you like YA dystopians, if you enjoyed Hunger Games and you can handle something a little edgier, this would be a good fit for you. Several people have shared my opinion that you have to give it a chance. If you don’t love it at first, it took me roughly 80 pages to really get into it and then it was worth it, so be patient and stick it out. And it is the first in a series that is not finished, so if you’re the type who can’t wait for the next installment, maybe put it on your TBR until they are all written…though who knows when that will be.
As for me, chances are good I’ll pick up the sequel, Golden Son, before the end of the year because I kind of need to know what happens next. 😉