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.

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