Monday, July 7, 2014

Microreview [book]: Reached, by Ally Condie

 A mildly interesting dystomance

Condie, Ally. Reached. Speak, 2013.
Buy it here.

Ever noticed how easy it is to talk about really great—or really bad—books/movies/etc., but how difficult it is to explain why something is just so-so? That's the problem I have today, as Reached, while certainly not a bad book, cannot live up to the promise of the trilogy's first installment, Matched, with its wondrous blend of poetry-as-resistance and chilling portrait of the ruthless panoptical (at this point it seems almost redundant to note "dystopic") Society.

Moreover, the love triangle at the center of the trilogy's drama has lost some of its fascination for this reader, at least; in the first book it was thrilling, in the second (Crossed) it was merely believable, but here in the concluding volume, it feels already resolved, somehow, as though there were never any doubt which way each character would go, and indeed alternatives to the characters' "first choice" in love keep conveniently popping up. One senses the heavy hand of Fate here, as well as that slightly oppressive atmosphere of heterosexual pairing in which no eligible female (or, in this case, male) can escape the ironclad bonds of matrimony: the Happy Ending.

But Reached retains flashes of the power of the first volume, as when Cassia recites (even if only in her mind) some of the key forbidden poems, particularly the Dylan Thomas "Do Not Go Gentle". And Condie did well to problematize the Rising, rejecting the easy "resistance at any price" line of moral absolutism and instead presenting a surprisingly balanced and even critical view of just about everyone, Society loyalist, Rising insurgent, or unaligned alike (though those who choose not to choose are made to seem noblest of all, as though to make any compromise in service to an uprising is an unforgivable sin). There are strong echoes/resonances with Hunger Games here, but if you want my two cents, Condie did quite a bit better in wrapping her series up than did Suzanne Collins did with the Hunger Games (particularly the cringe-worthy third volume Mockingjay).

So all in all, even though there doesn't quite feel like enough here around which to hang a story, and the romance part (and, in fact, the dystopia part) fell a little flat, Reached remains one of the better dystomances out there. Whether this is more a commentary on the sad state of the dystomance subgenre is up to you.

The Math

Objective assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for addressing the moral complexity of  resistance to a dystopian society well (and much better than in Collins' Mockingjay), +1 for foregrounding beautiful poems as the stuff of resistance

Penalties: -1 for letting the central drama of the love triangle (to quote Eddie Izzard on the Ottoman Empire) "slowly collapse like a flan in a cupboard"

Nerd coefficient: 6/10 "Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore"

[You can take a gander at our unusual scoring system here.]

This has been a public service announcement by Zhaoyun, scifantomance connoisseur (and yes, I'm brave enough to admit I had to look up how to spell that—I will be forever mystified that the French couldn't have settled on 'connaser' or something reasonable!) and one of the sous chefs here at Nerds of a Feather since early 2013.