What was once the United States of America has now splintered into two nations. East of the Rockies, the Colonies try to conquer in the name of reunification. To the West, the Republic stands firm against any such thing, even as it teaches that there never was such a thing as a unified state. War is a constant, as is homegrown terrorism from either the Colonies or the Republic-born Patriots who work to bring the Republic down.
For wealth-born June, life has a simple direction. Once she finishes her accelerated education, she’ll join the military’s elite, the only person to have ever earned a perfect score on her Trial. She’ll make her brother Metias proud and she’ll go on to be one of the most celebrated people in the Republic army.
For slum-born Day, things are rather more complicated. Condemned to death after failing his Trial, he now scours the city as a sort of Robin Hood, sharing money and food through the slums to those who need it, including the family he left behind. Now, with his youngest brother sick with the plague that sweeps through the lower sectors, he’ll have to risk everything to find medicine his brother can’t live without.
Day and June live in separate worlds, worlds that are about to collide in a way neither of them could have imagined.
I was very, very excited for this book to come out. There was a lot of buzz about it, lots of bloggers were itching to get their hands on an ARC and then raving about it when they did get one, so I got very excited. Even after a month and a re-read, I’m still not sure if the hype was my downfall or if the book itself sold me short. I enjoyed this book, but it also drove me crazy.
The narration passes betwen Day and June, both of whom have very distinct voices. Distinct enough that the ink probably didn’t need to be different colors to represent them. I understand the impetus (and I’m not laying this piece on the author, I know it’s a pub decision) but the gold was rather difficult to read. If it’s hard for me to read the font, I get much less interested in struggling through the book, even if the story had been as riveting as I wanted it to be.
I loved Day, both as a character and as a narrator. Though his physical feats often border on the blatantly unbelievable, his personality is pure gold. He has an entirely protective nature. Everything he does, all the risks he takes, it’s always for other people. He’s charming and confident, without it actually falling over into arrogance, and he has a refreshingly practical look at things. He’s out to help people, and if embarrasing the Republic is a consequence of the best way to do that, so be it, but he doesn’t go out of his way to force the issue. He’s not out to make himself into the symbol he becomes. I love seeing him interact with Tess, love their history and the way they came together. He has an easy way about him that brings us into his confidence, that lets us see the desperation and the need that exists all around him- and within him.
June was, for about half the book, far less compelling. She’s arrogant, judgmental, convinced of her own superiority without even a thought for anyone who doesn’t meet her standards. Her defiance isn’t charming, it’s obnoxious. For a long time, I really just wanted to reach into the book and throttle her into some kind of sense. She does, however, redeem herself. When June finally falls off her pedestal, when she’s forced to start genuinely questioning things, when she sees another side, when she finally becomes honestly vulnerable, she gets a lot more interesting. She also finally wins my respect. I don’t necessarily need to like a character, but I need to be invested in them. I need to care what happens to them. If I’m more concerned with what happens to the dog while June is out on her hunt, there’s a problem. She gets there, though, for all I wish it would have happened about 150 pages earlier.
What it really comes down to, I think, is that I never really settled into this book. Obviously it’s largely a dystopian, but it also drifted into steampunk and medical thriller and others. I wanted something concrete about the world, something that made me feel like I’m someplace real and distinct. I never got that. We’re told that the schism between Republic and Colonies is essential, but we’re never given any history between them. We don’t know how far in the future we are, but we also don’t know why things from the past have apparently crept back into style (like corsets). We’re given lovely details about why the rich wear white at funerals but nothing about what created the Republic in the first time. Worse than the things that are never given are the things that are given but never fulfilled. Things and events that are certainly handed to us as extremely significant are then glossed over. Yes, this is a first book, so if we’re patient there may be answers in future installments, but there’s more to a full-series arc than leaving us in the dark. For example (and dancing around spoilers), June is introduced to a Very Important Person, introduced in such a way that it absolutely has to be significant, or why have it in there at all? And then…nothing. Not even a hint that it’s going to fulfill it’s significance in another book.
For all the pieces of this book that drove me crazy- like constantly being told by June and Day that the other is “so beautiful”, little too Twilight for my taste if it’s never actually significant in what it can do for them- there were things I really loved. I loved Day. I loved Thomas- his arc was, I think, perfectly executed and one of the best things about this book. It was exactingly paced, flawless in delivery, and brings up strong emotions. I loved the support of the common people for Day- though I wish there would have been small hints of it sooner, so it’s more of a reality than a symbol.
I loved Metias. Specifically- I loved his similarities to Day. They have wildly different personality traits on the whole, not to be confused for each other, but where they overlap is strong and impactful. Those parallels are a large part of why June finally becomes interesting and compelling, why she stops being someone I want to throttle and becomes someone I would- perhaps grudgingly- support in her efforts. There are things I won’t talk about because of spoilers that I want to see come to fruition, see how they continue to affect the story and the characters.
In the end, I guess my feelings for this book could be largely summed up as ambivalence. There were some things I loved, there were a lot of things I hated. Will I read the next installments? Absolutely! I want to know what happened to create this world. I want to know where Day (and, I suppose, June) ventures next. I want what I felt was missing from this book, and there was enough I thought was done superbly to merit that hope.
Until next time~