Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review: Alayna Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince

Yet another YA dystopian fiction. I can't keep my hands off this stuff, even though I'm getting more and more grumpy with each one I read because they are all so similar and predictable. But something about the idea of a world not so unlike ours, gone terribly wrong, keeps the doldrums at bay and continues to draw me in (against my better judgment). 

Anyways. This book was typical in many ways: it features a feisty female protagonist with Special Talents (she's an artist) who has a forbidden romance with a boy who is doomed to die; the world has recently been blown to bits after a series of (presumably) nuclear incidents and the new civilization that has emerged from the dust seems idyllic from the outside but is actually deeply whacked and oppressive (shocker).

A brief plot summary before I get into what's different about this one and why, despite the unique take on this genre, this was still ultimately a dud for me. This takes place in what used to be Brazil, I believe, in this giant city that exists in some type of pyramid structure, with the wealthiest/most powerful living on tier 10 at the top, and the lowly poor folks all the way at the bottom (there is a catchy word for the bottom tier that I cannot recall presently). (If you need a visual, I envisioned it looking like the White City of Gondor. Could be way off though.) 

The city is ruled by women. I guess they decided after the nuclear holocaust that men had done a pretty good job ruining everything for...pretty much all of civilization heretofore, so, no more men in charge. Every summer the city votes to elect a "summer king" who rules alongside the queen, and then at the end of the summer, the queen slits his throat in a grand ceremony that all the city attends. As the dying king takes his last breath, blood splurting everywhere, he has to select the new queen. So the king has the power to choose the next leader, but, tragically, it will be the last thing he ever does. 

Now that I have set it up for you, those of you who read these books can probably figure out the rest of the plot. This might come as a shock, but our girl June (the protagonist), falls hard for Enki, the summer king. They bond over their mutual love of art. Very tough situation for all involved since Enki has a death sentence. 

One thing that was weird/unique about this book is that every character in it is bisexual, yet the topic sexuality is never overtly addressed--not once in the entire book. It's just a given. When June's father dies, her mother marries a woman. Enki has affairs with both men and women throughout. And so does pretty much every other character we hear about. I thought it was kind of jarring that the topic of sexuality was never actually directly addressed in the book, because the author DOES address literally every other major difference between the old world and the new. June pontificates endlessly about race (white people are pretty much gone now that North America is a wasteland), gender (women are now the gender in power and everyone accepts it since men are blamed for ruining the old world), religion, politics, etc., but never touches on the fact that suddenly everyone and their brother is bisexual now. It was clearly an intentional move on the author's part and I felt vaguely manipulated by it, which was off-putting.

The main problem I had with the book was that it seemed sloppily put together. I could tell the author had done her homework with the world building, but the execution was a mess. Very confusing, lots of strange terms being thrown out with no context, not enough description for me to really visualize what the city or world looked like (which is why I had to substitute Gondor), etc. It sort of read to me like an early draft, so that was a bummer. Another problem, which pops up in 99.9% of these books, is that I didn't feel our girl June had any sort of distinct voice, and neither did her loverboy Enki. All the characters had one or two key "traits" (June is a feisty artist; Enki "loves" his city), but no one seemed at all developed, and when you combine the lack of character development with the confusing world building, it was just kind of a mess, and a rather boring one at that. I almost gave up on this a few times, but it's a pretty short book so I eventually manned up and powered through.

All in all, I will give this 3 stars I guess. That may seem generous, and it is. This gets points for originality (I liked that women were in power and the eerie ritual of the summer king was a nice gory touch).