dystopian

REVIEW: Bubblegum by Sari Taurez

*I received a free electronic advance reading copy of this book in return for an honest review*

Status means everything in this society, including the difference between life and death. Tiana is a pampered member of the higher class of society, until her mother cuts her off and she must make her own way in the world. Tiana has a plan though – she has a knack for murder. Julia is Tiana’s first client, a lower-class girl, who volunteers at the local orphanage – an orphanage that’s being targeted by the infamous brothel-owner Bobby Nails. But as Tiana investigates she finds she might be in over her head. Tiana and Julia face a dangerous enemy on their quest for vengeance and justice, and they soon discover that they’re stronger together than a part. But will it be enough to stop Nails and save the orphans from a terrible fate?

The setting of Bubblegum feels like the near-future. Technology is pretty similar but the class system is very much a dystopian ideal – the rich get protection and are free to do whatever they want, including kill people from lower classes, while the lower classes struggle to get by with limited opportunities when it comes to work and education.

Bubblegum is a lot of fun and that’s down to the larger than life characters and the fact the action never really lets up for long. The characters are what really pulled me into this story. Tiana is bold, confident and a bit selfish sometimes, she seems to steamroll over Julia (and others) quite a few times but slowly you get to see that she’s not always as tough as she appears and she does truly care for a few select people. Julia is great. She’s the most relatable character of the bunch. She doesn’t have a lot of money, she cares a lot about the children she works with at the orphanage and she is very well aware of the dangerous situations she is slowly getting herself into and has very realistic, yet level-headed, reactions to it all.

The dialogue between Tiana and Julia is great. To be honest, pretty much all the dialogue is quick and engaging, putting the point across without too much unnecessary exposition. It’s the relationship between Tiana and Julia as well as Ruby and William, two characters you are slowly introduced to and are just as engaging as the story progresses, that really makes Bubblegum for me. Tiana and Julia have such an unlikely yet solid friendship (what with Tiana being almost the stereotypical white rich girl while Julia is the black poor girl) and when Ruby and William come along they dynamic shifts but they all make a badass yet kind of messed up group of people.

I’m pretty sure Bubblegum is the first New Adult story I’ve read and if this is the kind of thing the NA bracket brings I’ll be reading more of it. Bubblegum doesn’t shy away from gory violence and it does have some sex scenes but nothing too explicit. However, there are references to prostitution, including child prostitution, and sexual violence.

While I can’t say anything about how good the representation is, there is a female/female romance between a lesbian character and a transgender character. The relationship between the two is organic and sweet and you’re really rooting for them both, especially as their personalities are kind of the complete opposite but they compliment each other a lot.

Bubblegum is action-packed and while it does feature tough themes like human-trafficking and prostitution, it still manages to be fun without lessening the traumas the characters face in these situations. 4/5.

Bubblegum is released on 9th October 2017

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READ THE WORLD – China: The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung

Old Chen lives in Beijing, where a whole month has gone missing from official records, no one has any memory of it and no one cares about it either. Except for Old Chen and his friends – they realise something’s wrong with the Chinese people’s cheerfulness and amnesia. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they discover could shake them to the core.

The Fat Years is set in the near future so while things are different, for instance there was not just the financial crisis of 2008 a second one in 2011, a lot of Chinese history is mentioned. This is interesting and on the most part the social and political history is well-explained and is a great insight into what life is like in (almost) contemporary China. However, as the book progresses it becomes more dense and I struggled to get through the 100 page epilogue. There was a lot of talk about world economics and politics and while most of the book had been relatively quick to read, that epilogue was a slog.

The Fat Years is an interesting take on a near-future dystopia as so much of it appears to be heavily influenced by what we know of China today. There’s the heavy control of the media and the internet, and if someone disagrees with the government there’s strict punishments. It’s the sort of situation that’s scary and unsettling because it’s so realistic. I did like how The Fat Years talks about controlling governments and how the people tend to just accept what is happening, the sociological angle of how a month could go missing from people’s memories was very interesting.

I enjoyed the concept and it was well thought out and interesting however the characters were a bit of a mixed bad. I didn’t find the main protagonist Old Chen particularly compelling but I did like Little Xi, an internet political activist, and the mentions of her relationship with her son who is an ambitious party member.

If you have an interest in or a good understanding of Chinese political and social history then The Fat Years might be for you. Unfortunately, it became a bit too dense and complicated for me towards the end. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Russia: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

It’s 2033, the world is ruined and humanity is almost extinct. Possibly the last of the worlds survivors live in Moscow’s Metro system. There they’re safe from radiation in the city above and societies have formed across the metro system and its many stations. Artyom lives in VDNKh, the north most inhabited station on its line, life there is good, until the station becomes endangered by outside forces. Artyom is given the task to traverse the complex metro system to search for help and to warn every one of the new threat bearing down on his native station, and the whole Metro.

Metro 2033 is an interesting story. It’s quite slow to start with as there is a lot of world-building to do. Each of the different train stations in the Metro have become their own mini society, some have become Communist, some are Fascist while many others have their own capitalist democracy. It’s interesting to see what life’s like underground and how it differs from station to station. It wasn’t till I was about halfway through the book and I felt that I had a fairly good understanding that the story picked up speed.

The whole book is quite exposition heavy really and in some ways, it reminded me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman – both are quite slow reads, with a lot of world-building and main characters who seem to go from A to B without being an active participant in the situations they’re in. That being said, I felt Artyom was a character who actually reacted to the mad and dangerous situations he found himself in and, as the story progressed, he became more proactive and confident in his decision making and abilities.

The people Artyom meets on his journey are all very different. My favourites were those who are old enough to remember life outside the Metro, and everyday normal life in the cities. There memories were often rose-tinted but it was good to see Artyom compare it to what he knows as he was only a toddler when everyone had to hide out in the tunnels. It was those moments where you really got the dystopian aspect of the novel.

Metro 2033 also has horror and sci-fi elements as there’s rumours of creatures who have been mutated by the radiation, lurking on the surface and readying themselves to enter the tunnels. There are some passages on Metro 2033 that are generally creepy and unsettling as Artyom traverses the dark tunnel between stations. There’s some eerie stuff in Metro 2033 but it doesn’t always pay off which is regrettable.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it does leave things on a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, there was no real build up to the “big reveal” so instead of a plot twist you could’ve figured out yourself, it’s more of a huge surprise. I think I will pick up the rest of the series at some point as I’m intrigued to see what happens next but Metro 2033 didn’t pull me in enough from the start to make me super eager to continue. 3/5.

REVIEW: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

unwind neal shustermanThe Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The resolution is a chilling one: Life is inviolable from conception till the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen children can be “unwound” where all the child’s organs are harvested and distributed into different donors so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is a problem for his parents. Risa is a ward of the state, budget cuts and lack of talent means she’s not worth keeping alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child raised to be unwound. Together, they might have a chance to escape, and to survive.

Unwound is a dystopian YA novel where the pro-life vs pro-choice debate has led to a world where teenagers are just seen as viable body parts and parents can easily get rid of problem children. It’s a grim world and the way it’s so excepted and how they operate on the children is very unsettling.

Connor, Risa and Lev are all different kinds of people who are thrown together in a difficult situation. You get the story from their perspectives so while you may understand their actions, the other characters don’t. It can be frustrating and they aren’t always likeable, especially Lev because of his naivety and Connor because he often acts without thinking. Risa is the only one who manages to keep a level-head and while she does sometimes get mad at both Lev and Connor, she is very practical and excepts other people’s mistakes with good grace.

Unwound is a fast-paced read that appears to be a thrilling start to a series. The chapters are short and pretty much every one ends on a cliff-hanger. There’s lies, double-crossing and secrets throughout as Connor, Lev and Risa meet new characters who may or may not cause them harm.

I think I will be carrying on with this series, it’s a compelling and action-packed book and I’m interested to see what becomes of the characters. There’s a secondary character called Hayden who I liked a lot but considering my luck with secondary characters in dystopian novels I’m half expecting him to die/something terrible happens to him in later books. 4/5.

REVIEW: Slated by Teri Terry

slated by teri terryKyla has been Slated. Her memory’s erased, her personality is wiped blank and her memories are lost forever. The government claims she was a terrorist and that they are giving her a second chance – as long as she plays by the rules. But Kyla isn’t one to believe things just because someone tells her, and when she dreams things she shouldn’t know, are they dreams or are they whispers of her past? Someone is lying to her and nothing is as it seems. Who can Kyla trust in her search for the truth?

Slated is a gripping book. Some might feel it’s pretty slow and in some ways that’s true as it’s very character driven and there’s very few big action moments. It’s all about Kyla learning about herself, her new family and where she fits into her new life. She can’t remember anything so her family has to teach her simple things like how to wash the dishes and to tie her shoelaces. In many ways she is a child in a sixteen year olds body.

I found Kyla fascinating, she doesn’t act like Slated’s are supposed to act. She doesn’t know why this is, it’s just who she is but it causes problems when she asks too many questions. She’s intuitive and often untrusting but she still finds a way to express herself and tries to look after herself and others. As Kyla slowly learns more about her world and her past, you start to understand why she is a bit different but it never feels like the Chosen One cliché.

The intrigue surrounding Kyla’s world is brilliant. Slated is set in the near future in Britain so in some ways it’s familiar but in others it’s different and more sinister. Slated never stops and explains how the government and its laws work, it expects you to pick it up as Kyla does so you never really know who you can trust which is great. There’s always a sense of foreboding due to the way the mysterious Lorders dish out punishments.

Throughout Slated there’s a sense of wrongness that becomes clearer as the story progresses. The things Slated says about government control, terrorists and young people is timely and gripping. I definitely liked what it said about people being scared of those who ask questions and go against the status quo, it was definitely something you could relate to when the main story is about a girl who is a complete blank slate.

Slated is an intriguing start to a trilogy where you never know what you can believe. 4/5.