I don’t think that I have read many better first lines, ‘We rode to war in a taxi-cab.‘ certainly drew my attention. Nik is a scholarship student at an elite school, and at the beginning of this book he is expecting, along with his ‘girl friend’ Dash, to be selected as a recruit for ISIS (International Security and Intelligence Services) only, as a reader, you kind of know that he won’t be chosen. And you also get the idea that he isn’t really attached to Dash that very much, ‘Dash and I had battled each other for top spot in our year all the way up from Junior School. She beat me at applied physics and engineering – she could take anything apart and put it back together better than it was before. I beat her at mathematics and programming. Mostly it was a close run thing either way. Which meant everyone expected us to be together. And we were. Which was also fine.’ Fine? Is that foreshadowing, or just a little bit half hearted?
I guess that one of the main reasons this relationship didn’t ring true for me is that Nik never really felt male. I had to keep reminding myself that he was. This could have been a fatal flaw in the story, but somehow it wasn’t. Although, I did keep asking myself why Nik had to be male. A strong female protagonist, such as Ellie, in Tomorrow When the War Began, can be very believable and just as action driven – so why did Nik need to be a boy? It is a little pet hate of mine, and I think it rarely works – John Marsden did OK with Ellie, Emily Perkins did OK with Tom Stone…maybe…But mostly, it just creates another level of difficulty for the reader, so there needs to be a really good plot or character driven reason.
So…on with the story…because, after all, I have given it four stars, so I must ‘really like it’. And I do. Yes it is another Dystopian novel, where surprise, surprise the main character is not who he thinks he is, and where those who seem closest to him, may in fact not be. But there is something quite compelling about it. The bridge is a fantastic metaphor. It was good enough for me to read in one sitting. There was a sustainable plot, and the plot was mostly well constructed. In fact, there were some really great parts. Fyffe emerged as a character I could almost believe in, although at times she became a little too angelic. The same could be said of Lanya – in fact character description for Lanya was the most clear and consistent. Best supporting actress, I would say…
The war parts were a little confusing at times. I just felt we weren’t quite well enough placed in this world. I didn’t realise it was set in an actual year until I watched the trailer, although we did hear about ’87 quite a bit. I also felt I would have liked a little more made of the whole code breaking thing – something a little more real and effortful, and stressed perhaps, than Nik feeling as though he was sitting an exam. Hmm…And some of the dialogue was a bit ‘meh’.
‘It’s time for you to return to what is properly yours.’
‘Speak plainly, Councillor. I can take it.’
‘You take this lightly.’
‘On the contrary.’
I thought these characters were supposed to be enemies. Not vulcans.
And really, it didn’t end. Did it. With all of the tragedy in the middle, didn’t we deserve something worthwhile at the end of it. I know we could say that that was part of the point – what is it all for? Is it really worth it? Aren’t there better ways? But it really just felt bleak and hopeless, or unfinished.
I wouldn’t not read another book, if this became part of a trilogy or series, but I’m a little bit tired of them at the moment. Some characters I only care enough about to meet once. Even if I have enjoyed meeting them.
Worth a read. A wonderful first book. Look forward to seeing what else the author comes up with.
Teaching resources: http://www.janehiggins.co.nz/cms/index.php?page=teaching-resources
Interview with Jane Higgins Listener: http://www.listener.co.nz/culture/books/interview-jane-higgins/
View all of my Good reads review: