Author: Caitlin Sangster
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publishing Date: October 10, 2017
This Chinese-Cultured Dystopian is set in a war-ravaged world where a society is trying to survive. With a set of castes to keep things organized, we have Firsts through Fourths. Firsts are those who are considered wise, they are our scientists of the lot. Seconds are those who carry the guns and protect the city, they are our soldiers. Thirds are our hard laborers, those who keep the city running by creating and packaging everything, they are our poverty-stricken slaves. Lastly, we have Fourths, and these are deemed the lowliest of the low. They are or are affiliated with political traitors and are viewed as untrustworthy by the entire society.
Our Protagonist, Jiang Sev, is a Fourth, who is being reconstructed into society through the teaching of a Second family. It is their job to rehabilitate her, regardless of the fact that society will never accept a Fourth. Daughter of a woman who betrayed the nation, and purposefully gave her the disease that started the war, (SS/Sleeping Sickness/Encephalitis Lethargica) Sev is branded as a criminal and made to do hard labor.
When chaos strikes the city Sev is faced with having to flee for her life. She meets many people along the way but by the end, the question is: What is true, and what is not?
First Impressions/Plot Thoughts:
I received this novel from PageHabit’s YA Subscription box, and to be honest, I don’t know that I would have picked it up by myself. I say this because the cover gives the impression that it’s a different culture, and I would not have thought “Dystopian” by looking at it. I more so would have thought an action-and-adventure kind of read, which is not on the top of my list to grab. The first thing that drew me to this book was, most definitely, the synopsis. Once I realized it had a Dystopian feel, I was very excited.
I think there were several pros to this novel, for sure. My favorite thing by far was Sangster’s use of cultural lore, like the star who fell in love with a man but had a vengeful father who separated them! Those details add such flavor to a book. Additionally, I really loved the names. Though I struggled with them initially, her use of the hyphens made reading much easier. I also love that she stuck with culturally accurate names. I also loved the way she built her characters, and ultimately that ended up playing a HUGE roll in the plot. (Even more so than usual for a Dystopian)
One of the things that I really didn’t like about this book was the fact that it was very hard for me to get into intially. I kind of felt thrust into this foreign world with ZERO understanding and I think it just left my head spinning until about 3 and a half chapters in. Ultimately I would have preferred a better intro to the novel. I also found myself bored by a few sections that had uneccessary detail, though I’ll fully admit this was closer to the end and I really just wanted to skim so I could get back to the action.
The characters in this book are developed so beautifully! I was so happy that our protagonist faced real challenges, but had realistic responses. With Dystopians I feel we often get cookie-cutter characters, but in this one, we didn’t. Jiang Sev continued to develop from the very beginning and had a development (even to the end) that left me satisfied, versus being angry at the irrational progression.
Specific characters had these unique features that really brought them to life. Sev was a broken young-lady who wanted nothing more than to be loved and to fit in in the beginning. She was focused on Tai-ge, the son of General Hong, the head of the Second Family responsible for her rehabilitation. She was angry and confused, dealing with inner turmoil and conflict. Tai-ge, I felt was well described in the beginning, but began to fall flat further into the story, and then didn’t begin to develop right until the very end – which in some aspects makes sense. Then we have Howl, a charming and witty young man with a light-hearted way of inflating his ego. He was a pleasure to read through so much of the book! Most of the characters in this novel were broken, paranoid, and angry. I don’t think there’s much more to be expected from a post-war/current-war world.
Sangster still managed, however, to create unique personalities for each character, and that made the journey so much better.
Personally, when reading this novel I found my own heart hurting for Jiang Sev. My heart hurt for the loss of her Mother, for the loss of her childhood (she was branded as a criminal by the age of 8), for a love that was lost due to duty, and more. Tai-ge had me irritated more than anything else, because it was so obvious that he loved Sev, and I wanted him to betray his duty for that! What can I say? I’m a sucker for romance! (Which is why I won’t read novels that are focused on Romance.) With Howl, I spent most of the book battling who I loved more, and who I wanted Sev with. It was a shipping game for most of the novel, and even in the end, part of me was still torn.
Theme & Conclusion:
In this novel, we read a coming-of-age Dystopian, riddled with love and suffering, and the question of if their progress is real or an illusion. I rated this novel PG-13, mostly because I found it similar to the Hunger Games, but it had far fewer “adult” topics. Death happens, but not in a gory manner. There’s gentle physical contact at points, but nothing sexual that would surpass what’s seen in a nationwide commercial. Overall, I gave this novel 4.5 Stars and I would definitely recommend it to a friend. I would have rated it 5 stars, however, the initial struggle to be pulled into the story made it a tougher read. I am so not ready to wait an entire year before Book 2 in this series is released.