**Thank you to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**
Alright, let’s get this out of the way: I was looking forward to reading this book. I remember seeing it pop up all over people’s ARC hauls even before, but especially after, BEA. I’m not normally one for dystopias – especially YA dystopias – but each time someone began describing this novel in their haul, I became more and more intrigued.
Ultimately in my opinion, this novel was a case of “great idea, poor execution.”
The premise is a good one: 400 years into the future, an AI named Talis has taken over the world in order to stop humanity’s incessant wars against each other. How has Talis done this, you ask? First: blowing up several cities. Once that got humanity’s attention, Talis demanded that the ruler of each nation offer up one of their children as a hostage. That way, if a ruler decides to start a war/conflict with another nation…off with the kid’s head.
Again. Great idea. Boring execution.
The best part of this novel is its opening pages – two pages, to be exact. The prologue — an excerpt from the fiction “Holy Utterances of Talis, Book One, Chapter One: ‘Being a meditation on the creation of the Preceptures and the mandate of the Children of Peace” – is simultaneously entertaining and chilling. I thought and hoped it was setting the stage for the tone and pace of the novel; I thought this character of Talis was going to be my narrator.
Unfortunately, not so. Talis doesn’t appear again until 69% of the way through the novel – according to my kindle – and the 68% before the AI’s reappearance is a brick of boring that was so intolerable, I almost put the book down. From forced-feeling “insta-love-triangles”, a plot that goes absolutely nowhere, and characters flat enough to make a sheet of paper look as multi-dimensional as 30-sided dice…this book was just boring. There’s no other word for it.
There’s been lots of talk about this book in relation to its diverse characters – and, yes, they are numerous and they are all diverse. However, diverse does not equal interesting. And none of these characters were interesting. The worst culprit was, unfortunately, our protagonist, Greta. For a character who thinks that she’s some “I am woman, hear me roar – I don’t need no man” kind of girl, she sure behaved like a delicate snowflake. This is compounded upon by the fact that literally every single other kid in this facility treats her like some special, delicate snowflake that is above everything and everyone else. Why? There’s no evidence given in this novel to illuminate this choice; all I saw a kid who thought far too highly of herself.
Then, of course, the ultimate disappointment: when Talis finally shows back up 69% of the novel after its initial introduction…all that snark and sass was transformed into uninteresting whining. Talis becomes a bore of a villain and the writing around it feels lazy. Actually, let’s talk about the writing: there’s nothing notable about it. It tries too hard and falls even harder. The similes and metaphors that the author invokes are ridiculous enough to make eyes roll – and this isn’t like in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series, where he deliberately makes his protagonist bad at similes and metaphors. Nope, the writing really is just that ridiculous.
As much as I’d love to recommend this book to others, just on the basis of its diversity, I can’t. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else about this novel that could justify me recommending it to anyone with a clear conscience.