Posted in Books, Dystopia, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Book Review : Champion – Marie Lu

And its finally over.

This amazing series finally come to its conclusion with Champion, the third book in the series. Its really hard to discuss and review this book without issuing any major spoilers so if you haven’t read the first two books, consider this your SPOILER ALERT!

The last book ended with a big reveal about Day as well as an end to his relationship with June. He’s left the capital of the Republic to care for his brother Eden as well as to get treatment for his own steadily worsening condition. June, meanwhile, is in training to become the Princeps, the second highest position in the republic (and a position usually held by the Elector’s wife. Hmmmm, coincidence?). The country is on the brink of a treaty with the Colonies until a new plague outbreak threatens to break the tenuous peace that June and Day have fought for, and subsequently brings them back together.

I have to say I was very very impressed with this book. From somewhat naive teenagers, June and Day have grown leaps and bounds into really sensible individuals who, while still prone to the occasional adolescent angst, can think things through before coming to a decision. I am impressed with the level of maturity Marie Lu has given these characters. It is the highest praise I can give when I say that in terms of YA characters these two annoy me the least.

Marie Lu did a very good job of contrasting the different perspectives (and decision-making process) of the main characters in this book: Day, Anden and June.

Those of us who lead with our emotions tend to see the world in absolutes, in black and white, never seeing the shades of grey in between. Guided by our supposedly lofty set of morals, it would be easy to judge another person’s actions as good or bad. Its often a different story if we experience firsthand what it would be like to be responsible for the fate of so many, to have to sacrifice over and over again our own morals and personal beliefs for the sake of the greater good.

The contrast between logic and emotions is exemplified in the characters of Anden and Day. The former, as Elector, has to make decisions that are often contrary to his desires but are ones that he knows will save the country. He cannot afford to rule with his heart because the truth is, emotion is not something one can afford when facing war from both within and without your country’s borders.

Day, meanwhile, is all emotion. Without the weight of an entire country on his shoulders, he can afford to care for the poor and disenfranchised, to protect his remaining family member as well as the girl who is the closest thing he has to a sister. He can afford to fight the daily battles without thinking about what’s next for his country after the dust of battle has settled.

In a way, June represents the balance between these two men. It was very clever of Marie Lu to have this tale narrated through alternating perspectives (June’s and Day’s). We get to read so many scenes of June attempting to strike some kind of balance and compromise, still doing what she knows is right but also being able to look at it from a more global perspective. Its what differentiates June Iparis from other wannabe dystopian heroines: while she is still vulnerable to emotions and matters of the heart (I hate the way she lets herself be affected by Anden’s attentions in order to fill the Day-sized hole in her life), during moments of crisis she is genuinely able to function rationally and be the kind of leader her country needs.

For me, the whole series seems to be Marie Lu’s subtly way of warning us of the dangers of excess and absolute power. Any government where there are a group of individuals who presume to know better and to act in behalf of their people, rather than giving them freedom of choice, is really just tyranny. I’m glad that while this series is somewhat political, it was also so much more than that. Its about one’s personal journey, staying true to your beliefs and what it means to truly care for another person.

The ending was perfect. While some readers may disagree and yearn for something more decisive, I think I like the uncertainty of a happy beginning rather than the finality of a happy ending. I thought the ending was really poignant and, if you paid close attention to the previous books, also very fitting with how June and Day’s relationship has developed.

This is what a dystopian novel should be like: the perfect mix of action, backstory, romance with a side order of politics. Overall, this was a very satisfying end to a fabulous series and I look forward to reading more of Marie Lu’s body of work in the future.

Posted in Books, Dystopia, Young Adult

Book Review: Prodigy – Marie Lu

The second book in any trilogy always feels like that all-important second date. You’ve set the expectations, for better or for worse, on the first date and now the follow-up determines whether its worth taking things to the next level or  you decide that the date simply never lived up to the promise of that initial meeting.

Legend did such a good job of introducing us to this dystopian world that Marie Lu has created, a world where the United States of America has fractured into two countries (the Republic of America and the Colonies of America) who are constantly at war with each other. She also introduced us to Day and June, two teenagers who – in their own different ways – are fighting for their own vision of what freedom and equality for all really means.

Prodigy picks up immediately where Legend left off, with June turning her back on the government that she’s always believed in after learning the truth behind her parents’ and her brother’s death. She’s on the run after helping Day escape his own execution with the help of a group of rebels called the Patriots. Desperate for help, and wanting to free Day’s brother Eden from the clutches of the Republic who is using him as a bio-weapon against the Colonies, Day and June become more involved with the Patriots, whose help comes with a price: killing the new Elector of the Republic.

This book is jam-packed with action scenes, plots, betrayals and revelations that will keep you turning page after page after page. I had some issues with Legend because I feel that the relationship between Day and June developed faster than I would have liked. I didn’t feel like they knew each other well enough for those feelings to be authentic and realistic.

However, Marie Lu addresses that issue by having the two of them deal with the fallout of the events in the previous book in this instalment. June comes to terms with the fact that she’s given up her life and her status as the Republic’s Prodigy in order to be with Day, and Day has to deal with the lingering resentment (and insecurity) over the divide between their status and the bigger issue of the fact that, deep deep down, he blames June for betraying his family to the Republic.

Mare Lu very cleverly kept them apart for most of this book, which allowed them to analyse their relationship without physical attraction getting in the way. Most young adult books don’t do that and would instead brush the issues aside because “love forgives all things” and all that rubbish. However, in reality love is not mutually exclusive of those issues; you can love and resent a person all at the same time and that’s what makes human relationships so layered and complex.

I respected the relationship between June and Day so much more in this book because to me it felt more real. That’s not to say that they didn’t annoy me a little in this book. I sometimes had to roll my eyes because I felt that there’s simply no room for that kind of adolescent nonsense when their is a war going on. But then I realise that if we stop living and stop having human emotions just because we live in state of constant war, then we’ve probably reached a point where there is nothing left worth fighting for. 

There is so much more to this book than just the development of June and Day’s relationship. They each develop as characters and though their belief systems may differ, they each fight on the side of freedom and equality for all. We are also introduced to the new Elector who becomes a symbol of hope that the country can change for the better. Arden genuinely wants to make things better for his people and to correct the mistakes of the previous government, and he manages to somehow communicate this passion to June, which makes her doubt her decision to help assassinate him.

There are many more revelations to be had in this book and the action is relentless. June and Day even manage to make it into the Colonies of America and it is there that they realise that while the grass may seem greener on the other side, absolute power is still absolute power and the Colonies may just be another prison, just with different guards. That was my favourite part of this book actually, I thought that as a plot device it really helped readers understand why Day eventually did what he did. The first half of the book was June-centric, but its Day’s character that takes centre stage towards the end as he becomes the voice of the people, a stronger symbol of hope than Anden would ever be because he IS the people.

The book ends with a cliffhanger that made me glad that I am reading this book after all three have already been released and I did not have to wait another year to read Champion, the last book in the trilogy. Throughout all the action and fast-paced developments, Marie Lu keeps a strong grip on the narrative and is always in full-control of this world that she’s created. Prodigy is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor and will have readers reaching for the next book faster than you can say Hunger Games.

Posted in Books, Dystopia, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Review: Legend – Marie Lu

A dystopian retelling of the classic novel, Les Miserables.

This is what the blurb of this book tells potential readers. Much to my disappointment, there were no moments of spontaneous singing nor did the main characters burst into song about dreaming a dream. There wasn’t a single flag bearer in sight urging everyone to hear the people sing.

Instead, Legend is dystopian literature at its best. At first glance, it may seem like another young adult novel whose characters are no different from other characters in the more highly-publicised dystopian novels like The Hunger Games or Divergent series. It would be easy to lump June Iparis, the main female character, with the Katniss Everdeen’s and Beatrice Prior’s of the book world. Indeed, the three share many similarities: attractive (of course) standouts, smart, naturally gifted in some form of weaponry and with the ability to attract multiple members of the male species at a time (insert eye roll here).

However, read past the first couple of chapters and the novel immediately distinguishes itself from its peers. The plot is well-developed and airtight. There are dark undertones to this novel that, with the state of the current world we live in and America especially, seems eerily relevant and prophetic. It tells the story of a divided country whose people have forgotten that they were once the all-powerful United States of America. Instead, two countries – who are perpetually at war with one another- have emerged: the Republic and the Colonies.

 

original
image credits to https://weheartit.com/followjunebug/collections/25223849-legend-trilogy-by-marie-lu

 

The novel is set in a distorted version of Los Angeles, a city that has been ravaged by floods and other natural disasters. Our heroine June is one of the ‘elites‘ and is the Republic’s darling. She is considered a “prodigy” having scored a perfect 1500 on her Trial, a test that all children in the Republic have to take when they turn 10.

In contrast, we have the boy known as Day, the Republic’s most notorious criminal who exists to wreak havoc on its plans, especially the plans dealing with warfare. Day failed his own Trial exams and was thought to be sent to labour camps along with other children who failed, only to find out that labour camp is just another name for death.

Their paths cross when Day is accused of murdering June’s brother during Day’s botched attempt to steal a cure for his brother’s plague. The murder of her one remaining family sends June into revenge mode and she goes undercover in the poor sector of the city to smoke Day out.

As this is a young adult novel, one can forgive Marie Lu for putting the romantic elements front and centre so quickly in this book. Its my opinion that this book would have been stronger if she parked that for at least one book more and allowed the connection to develop slowly towards its inevitable conclusion. I think putting the love story on display so prominently only distracted from the main plot, which was really quite good. Besides I think that the book already packs an emotional punch without it, with its elements of family, true friendship, sacrifice, and fighting for what you believe is right even when you seemingly fight alone.

This novel is not afraid to go graphic in its description of some of the violent scenes, which really surprised me. I suppose the young adult genre has changed a lot since I was a young adult and its now commonplace to have kids reading about people getting shot in the head or a mob full of people being gunned down. Then again, I think it would have been impossible to tell this story without showing the violence, a symptom of the corrupt nature of the current Republic.

Its interesting to note that a common theme in these dystopian novels seem to be segregation. In Hunger Games, they were separated into Sectors. In the Divergent series, teenagers were grouped according to their dominant abilities. The main message seems to be that segregation is the root of all evil. When one person or group starts taking it upon themselves to judge other people’s worth based on a set criteria, well, we all know what happened during the Holocaust.

There are so many story arcs going on in this book that makes me wonder how Marie Lu is ever going to tie up all the loose ends. At the same time, I cannot wait to see how she develops these storylines and what other revelations are in store for Day and June. The combination of an alternate-universe America and the prospect of future rebellion as June and Day work to expose the corruption of the system will win the acclaim of fans of the dystopian genre everywhere. Overall, Legend is a fast-paced, well-written and, dare I say, legendary start for what promises to be an epic trilogy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.