Category Archives: YA Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic

Kresley Cole, Poison Princess

The themes this novel is playing with are going to sound familiar –

She wants desperately to be a normal girl, though she is troubled by bad dreams. When she was young, her grandmother first kidnapped her and then was sent to the insane asylum. But when the apocalypse comes, she discovers that her dreams were prophetic. And she has other powers – the ability to make plants grow, in what is now a dry and hungry land. She needs to find her grandmother, who may be able to tell her what is going on, but the trip from Louisiana to North Carolina is now as good as suicidal. But a boy she felt an attraction to (but couldn’t really have much to do with, in her old high school) shows up unexpectedly and offers to help, so she sets forth on a journey that will reveal who – and what – she really is. Though judging by her nightmares, she really doesn’t want to know.

Here we have the typical elements of YA dystopian fiction – a world gone awry, a heroine with special gifts, a male sidekick/love interest, and a mystery that rapidly turns into a deadly dangerous quest. We even have another common theme – a winner-takes-all competition that can have only one survivor. However, Kresley Cole instantiates all these elements in a rather distinctive way, starting with the initial setting of the book (rural Louisiana, complete with Anglo prejudice against Cajuns) and continuing as she develops her world’s distinctive elements – a hidden society in which the gifted few instantiate a mythic image from the Tarot deck and have matching magical abilities. It’s also rather interesting to have a protagonist who is very, very, relatable, but who will almost certainly die unless she embraces a monstrous power.

I liked it. However, it’s the first book in a series, so it has some of the attendant limitations. The main character’s journey has only just begun by the end of the book, and her fate is still very much undecided, so my reaction to the whole will really depend on how the later volumes play out. But it’s a very solid start to what may turn out to be an interesting take on the YA dystopian heroine.

Note: I got a signed copy of this book for free at Book Expo America. I have no other connection with the publisher.

Frozen (Heart of Dread, 1) by Melissa de la Cruz & Michael Johnston

Forget global warming. If you want a real dystopia, imagine poisoned seas covered by drifting trashbergs, snow in the American Southwest, and polar bears in Los Angeles. Imagine a world in which fresh water is a delicacy and strange mutants have weird powers. Imagine a world in which government oppression is so extreme that people will pay fortunes for the chance to get out … even though the only way out is a mythical country, ‘The Blue’, where the sky and sea are clean. But no one knows if it exists. At least, no one has ever returned to tell the tale.

This is the world we enter in this novel. There are dual protagonists: Nat, a girl on the run, working as a dealer in one of New Vegas’ glitziest casinos, trying to to get the cash to pay a runner to escape to the Blue. And Wes, a mercenary who has just drawn the line and refused a job too dirty even for blood money. She needs a guide. He needs a job. Together, they set forth to find the Blue. But things are not as they seem, and as they proceed, they learn that more is at stake than their own lives. Theirs is a world without magic — except for people like Nat with strange, mutant powers — but in reality, the magic is trying to return. Yet the world may be too grim, too poisoned to allow Avalon to bring renewal.

This is in part a story of revelations, both about the world and about the characters’ backstory, and the authors handle the resulting tensions well. We’re kept slightly baffled, but enjoying it as we piece together the bits to build up a clear vision of the world. The interaction between Wes and Nat is especially strong, and finely drawn. These are characters you care about.

If there’s anything that bugs me, it would be this book’s tendency to go from shades of grey to black-and-white when it comes to the government’s role. We end up with a kind of morality tale background (good magic; bad technogovernment) which is drawn much more simplistically than the story of Wes and Nat and their friends.

But that’s perhaps too picky. The world is brilliant, the characterization striking, and the adventures suck you right in. I recommend it highly.

I read an advance review copy of Frozen that was distributed at Book Expo America. It will be released Sept. 17, 2013.

Heather Terrell, Relic: the Books of Eva

This is a very strong YA dystopian set in a future world in which sea levels have risen catastrophically and a survivor society lives on a remote Arctic island. Eva, daughter of a ruling family in this society, rejects their expectations for women, and is determined to take her dead brother’s place in a brutal competition that decides who will end up in a position of power and responsibility.

Eva’s voice comes through very strongly — idealistic and naive, yet tough as nails. She has to survive Arctic conditions, handle a team of sled dogs, hunt for food, watch out for competitors, and deal with gradual disillusionment as some of her society’s secrets start to wear very thin. Yet she’s ready to take on the next challenge — even when it’s not at all what she had dreamed for herself, in the first place.

The Arctic world is incredibly well realized. Types of snow, survival conditions in the arctic, Inuit culture — it’s all very believable, and makes for a very unusual and fun setting. That by itself was worth the price of admission.

Like a lot of YA books in first person, one weakness is that secondary characters are not always as strongly realized as I would like; another, is that the complications that are revealed do not seem inevitable — I can imagine other ways the plot could have gone, and can come up with awkward questions that aren’t fully prepared for in the narrative. For instance, the intensity of her belief in the myths of her world are very credible; the ease with which she takes the disturbing developments later in the book that undermine her beliefs, not quite so easy to credit. Partly this is an effect of the length: it’s only 276 pages, probably rather less than 80,000 words, which makes sense for a YA, but makes it hard to resolve all of the plot issues cleanly.

But this is me being over-critical. Most readers — and certainly, most YA readers — are going to love the way the story moves and the character’s voice. Eva is a character you fall in love with and just passionately wish you could protect, but know you can’t. The twists surprise you. Sometimes the lack of twists surprise you! And there are a lot of elements very skillfully prepared and foreshadowed.

Soho usually publishes mysteries. This isn’t a mystery, though there are certainly mysteries in her world that the protagonist must confront. But it’s a great read, and one that readers looking for something like the Hunger Games (but different, and refreshing) will certainly consider worth the price of admission.

I got an advanced review copy of this book at the Book Expo America this summer. It will be released Oct. 29, 2013.