Sometimes I am in the mood for a dystopia aimed at the young adult audience, but without a lot of world-building – just enough to set the scene. Common elements of this genre include teenage angst, romance, and evil political machinations by the adults. It’s what I would label easy escapist reading.
This is what I had anticipated with this latest offering from Ally Condie, who wrote the “Matched” trilogy, even though this book is a stand-alone novel.
Poe Blythe, 17, lost her true love Call two years earlier when their gold-dredging ship was raided. Since that time, Poe devoted herself to avenging his death, using her skills as a mechanic to devise armor for her colony’s remaining dredger. The armor would tear to shreds any raider who tried to get onto the ship.
The “Admiral” of Poe’s colony selected Poe to lead the next and supposedly last gold-dredging voyage on a new river, The Serpentine, because, as the Admiral stated:
“This is the most important voyage yet. . . . I don’t want anything to go wrong. I want the killing mechanisms to work.”
The colonists are not aware of what the gold is used for, but they trust the Admiral with a sort of cultish belief in him and his assignments.
With a crew selected by the Admiral, Poe captained the dredge and it managed to collect more gold than ever before. But it is clear there is a traitor on the ship loyal to the raiders, and before long, they are all in danger. Poe doesn’t know whom she can trust anymore – could the traitor be her one friend among the crew? Or the handsome First Mate who reminds her of Call? Or the sweet young boy who is the cook? And why would anyone be loyal to the raiders in any event?
Poe learns, of course, as is usual in this genre, that the people she thought were good were evil. As for the supposed “bad guys,” nothing about them turns out to validate what she was taught to believe. And what about a new relationship? Would it be “disloyal” to Call? Most importantly, how, in the end, does she prefer to guide her life: by hate and revenge, or by love and rebuilding?
Discussion: I was surprised to find this was a standalone rather than a trilogy. So much about the story is unexplained, especially the dystopian set-up, and about the object that turns out to be the motivation behind the Admiral’s behavior. At least in a trilogy, one would expect that answers would eventually be revealed.
We also don’t learn much about the characters, not even Poe, except in an almost (inadvertently, I presume) humorous passage. The boy who seemingly falls for Poe because he thinks she is a good person explains that “You know what someone builds, you know them.” Um, Poe built a boat that is a killing machine. Just saying.
Evaluation: I wasn’t wild about the story, but would have continued, had there been a follow-up, just to find out what was going on.
Published by Dutton Books, 2019