The Wicked We Have Done (Chaos Theory, #1) by Sarah Harian

The Wicked We Have Done (Chaos Theory, #1) by Sarah Harian

wickedIn a not-too-distant future, humanity has developed the technology to see inside the mind of criminals. Through simulations and tracking responses, the law claims to have the ability to measure motivation and “goodness.”

Evalyn Ibarra says she is guilty, but not of the crime she is on trial for. Rather than rely on a jury to prove her innocence, she chooses the “compass room,” the new technology, to prove her innocence.

If she is truly evil, the compass room will kill her. If she is innocent, she will walk free.

“My throat tightens, but there is no time to reflect. I had months to imagine this moment, months to mourn. That time is over, because today is the beginning of my inevitable execution in the Compass Room.”pg 7, ebook.

I found the premise of this book to be interesting, but it suffered in its execution and characterizations. Both were rather flat.

“The tension after Stella leaves is awkward and volatile. … We’ve been given provisions, so it’s obvious that, if this is the Compass Room, we are meant to head out. It’s either that or stay in a house full of psychopaths.” pg 25, ebook.

Did I mention that the compass room tries more than one criminal at a time? Very Hunger Games-esque.

“The one thing I do know about the Compass Room is that this test is supposed to see who you truly are, despite your research. Despite good acting or the lies you tell yourself.” pg 27, ebook.

Wouldn’t it be something if detecting evil was as simple as marking a chemical or hormonal response of the brain?

But then, of course, you wander into the problem: what if the technology gets it wrong? Or glitches?

“A terrorist attack finally convinced the Supreme Court. All charged in the bombing were forced to undergo the Compass Room’s exam. And they were all found to be, as reporters said on the news, ‘morally tarnished.'” pg 12, ebook.

The thing about execution is that there are no second chances or second guesses. Evalyn believes herself to be innocent. Will the room think so too?

I think if the author had fully explored the compass room and the psyches of those involved, I may have enjoyed it more.

As it was, I felt like we only skimmed the surface of what was possible. It lacked complexity because of the number of characters she wrote into the story.

Also, the author includes some half-baked romances, perhaps to prove this is in the “new adult” genre? I don’t believe it added much.

There’s also some non-spooky horror elements, that are meant to evoke the harrowing nature of the compass room. They felt overdone.

If you must read The Wicked We Have Done, I recommend borrowing it from the library.

Thanks for reading!

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Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown

irongoldDarrow led an uprising and smashed the hierarchy that had held the worlds in its thrall. Now, ten years later, he is discovering the difficulties of maintaining rule and stamping out the last of the old regime.

More than anything else, Darrow is sick of war. Yet, unrest dogs his every step.

“I remember when you told me I was a good man who’d have to do bad things,” I say. “Your stomach go soft? Or have you spent so much time with politicians that you’ve forgotten what the enemy looks like?” pg 21.

The government Darrow and his allies have crafted out of the former rebellion is divided in how to proceed. The enemy is entrenched on the planets nearest the sun… and also the planets furthest from it.

“Like you, I wish for nothing more than peace. I wish for a world where the machine of war does not swallow our young. … Our enemies have held dominion over us for too long. First as slaves, then adversaries. And what stability, what harmony can we bring to the worlds we have freed while they continue to define us?” pg 89.

Pierce Brown has crafted a satisfying return to his dystopian world with characters readers loved from his first three books.

We also get to meet a few new ones like a wily thief who gets in over his head and a kind, young Red who discovers The Reaper’s new world isn’t anything like it was portrayed on the holos.

There’s sweeping speeches and heart-pounding battle scenes. Brown’s newest book is incredibly entertaining.

I have two regrets though.

The first is I read the other books so long ago, I forgot many of the small details. If I had it to do over again, I’d re-read the first trilogy before hopping into this one.

“It is our duty to embrace the scars our choices give us, to embrace and remember our mistakes, else we live believing our own myth.”pg 316.

The second is Brown hasn’t written his next book yet and he ends on, what seems to be for him, a signature cliffhanger.

I refused to read the first three books until the trilogy was complete because I really don’t like waiting for the next entry in a series.

“The key to learning, to power, to having the final say in everything, is observation. By all means, be a storm inside, but save your movement and wind till you know your purpose.” pg 355.

It’s a nod to Brown’s genius that I purchased this new title from the book store. I’m a library patron through and through, but this is one that is worth owning.

Here’s hoping Brown writes really fast.

Highly recommended for science fiction and dystopian fans. Start with Red Rising.

Thanks for reading!

Whisper by Chris Struyk-Bonn

Whisper by Chris Struyk-Bonn

whisperWhisper has a cleft palate. In this young adult dystopian tale, she and other deformed children are cast out of society because of their abnormalities.

This story is about how she survives and holds her new family, made up of other rejected children, together despite obstacles at every turn.

Whisper was a far darker story than I expected.

Terrible things kept happening to Whisper and I kept telling myself that it would turn around soon. And it didn’t.

If she wasn’t running from someone who was trying to harm her, she was freezing or starving. She’d get a modicum of security and then lose it.

I was really cheering for Whisper to embrace her special abilities, but she never seems to manage it.

Honestly, I was disappointed by the heroine’s decisions at multiple times in this story.

As one of the children tells Whisper: “You will never go far in this world if you don’t know how to rescue yourself.” And, in my opinion, she never did what was best for her own survival.

The author describes the setting as “near future” but if she had taken out the cars, refrigerators, and indoor plumbing, it could just as easily have been the recent past.

It wasn’t too long ago that superstitious people believed birth defects marked someone who would ruin the crops, bring bad luck, or comets shooting across the sky spelled misfortune. In fact, in some parts of the world, this type of thinking still reigns.

I think it’s human nature to try to explain the unexplained and to condemn others for their differences, the physical differences being the easiest to pick out. That doesn’t make it right.

My main complaint about this read was the repetitiousness. After short bursts of frantic activity, Whisper’s life would settle into a routine that was really uninteresting.

If I had to read about her messing up the homemade bread one more time, I was going to put the book down.

Maybe the author was trying to get the reader invested in the process, but I simply wanted the story to move on. I was already interested in Whisper- I was just over the baking and cleaning.

The same feeling hit me during the multiple music lessons and the days spent playing violin on the streets for change. I guess I prefer my dystopian novels with more explosive action and less daily slogging.

Fans of How I Live Now or Gated may enjoy the pacing and story line of Whisper. As for me, I’m headed back to more action-oriented dystopian reads.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. Thanks for reading!

The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #2) by Erika Johansen

The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #2) by Erika Johansen

invasionoftearlingThe Invasion of the Tearling picked up where the last book left off. The Mort army is invading the Tear because of the actions of Kelsea, their new queen.

I won’t say what exactly those actions were, in case you didn’t read the last book. Let’s just say: she’s breaking with tradition in more ways than one.

Kelsea has started to embrace her power in this book. It suits her.

The girl who had been raised by Carlin Glynn would never have trusted in visions, but Kelsea’s world had broadened well beyond the width of Carlin’s library. The Mort would come, and the Tear army wouldn’t be able to stop them. All they could hope to do was slow them down.” pg 33, ebook.

I remember being rather unimpressed by the first book in this series. It felt cliched to me and predictable, except for the shadow creature and the introduction of the magic of the gems.

This book has more of both of those things. I approved.

Trigger warning in The Invasion of the Tearling for anyone who has had issues with cutting.

“Just the skin,” Kelsea whispered, staring at her arm, focusing all of her will on a tiny inch of flesh. She had borne worse; surely she could handle this. “Just a scratch.” A shallow line of red appeared on her forearm. Kelsea bore down, watching the line deepen, her breath hissing through her teeth as the skin parted with a sting, allowing a thin line of blood to well up and hold.” pg 117, ebook.

There’s also domestic violence, rape, non-graphic torture and some hints of sexual abuse. I suppose a young adult could read this, depending on their maturity level. 16+ may be appropriate. I would hesitate to go any younger.

Queen Kelsea has a lot on her plate: “My people are starving and uneducated. We have no true medicine. On the eastern border is an army that will crush us into dust. These are real problems, and so for a time I’ve let the others lie.” pg 208, ebook.

Will she be able to save everybody?

“And Kelsea wondered suddenly whether humanity ever actually changed. Did people grow and learn at all as the centuries passed? Or was humanity merely like the tide, enlightenment advancing and then retreating as circumstances shifted?” pg 381, ebook.

I wonder that sometimes too.

Recommended for readers who enjoy their fantasies on the gritty side. I don’t feel like it ever veers into the truly “dark” but there are some disturbing elements to The Invasion of the Tearling.

Thanks for reading!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

bravenewworldAlthough not my favorite of the classic dystopians, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is certainly a ground-breaking work about societal control through genetic manipulation, subliminal conditioning and socially acceptable drug use.

You are not born into this world; you are decanted. The institution of the traditional family has fallen apart- is even considered obscene.

Children run about naked and wild, experimenting with sex from a shockingly young age. This is a world where everyone’s body belongs to everyone else. Promiscuity is encouraged as well as mass consumption and instant gratification.

Men and women take a drug called “soma” to mellow out any pesky emotions. It is also used in quasi-religious ceremonies and public gatherings to create a kind of ecstasy.

A strict caste system is in place from the moment a baby is decanted. Societal mores are whispered into children’s ears thousands of times per week while they sleep. So, when they grow up, they fit seamlessly into the role that the world has chosen for them from conception.

Not everyone is happy in this world. Can you imagine that? Perhaps they just need more soma…

Recommended for those who enjoy classic works that examine the way society’s systems constrain and suffocate those who, for whatever reason, don’t or can’t fit in.

Thanks for reading.

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

gatherthedaughters<i>Gather the Daughters</i> is about a small community that lives with no electricity or modern conveniences on an island. They have a church made of stone that sinks into the ground and a holy book written by “the ancestors.” These ancestors are saint-like founders who, according to tradition, fled the wider world to preserve the human race during an apocalypse.

Traditions are dark and strange on the island, but not questioned because they were written by the ancestors.

The tale is told from the viewpoint of four girls: Vanessa, Caitlin, Janey and Amanda.

<i>”From the fires of wickedness we grew forth, like a green branch from a rotten tree,” he reads. “From the wastelands of want came the hardworking men of industry and promise. From the war-striken terror came our forefathers to keep us safe from harm.” Like everyone else, Vanessa mouths the words along with him.</i> loc 122, ebook.

Because of the small number of people on the island, everyone has an assigned job- that they keep for life. Reproduction, meetings and courtships are also controlled by tradition.

Sometimes the way things are done seem irrational or cruel, but the community does not change. Take the perpetually sinking church: <i>”Every ten years or so, when the roof is almost level with the ground, all the men on the island gather to build stone walls on top of it, and the roof becomes the new floor. Vanessa asked Mother why they couldn’t just use wood, but Mother said it was tradition, and it would be disrespectful to the ancestors to change it.”</i> loc 229, ebook.

Similar to <i>The Handmaiden’s Tale</i>, <i>Gather the Daughters</i> is ultimately about what happens when society dictates and controls relationships, sexuality and education through religious doctrine. It is also examines the male/female balance of power.

<i>Gather the Daughters</i> is a gripping read. But not mysterious. It was fairly clear in my mind from the start where this story was headed, but I cared about the main characters. They have heart and I couldn’t help but want them to live in a better world than the one they were born into.

I could see this being a great choice for book clubs. There’s plenty to talk about, especially with character motivations and the structure of society.

Reader warnings: survivors of childhood sexual abuse could be triggered by this read. There are also some domestic violence scenes.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for a free advance reader’s copy of this book. Reminder: the short quotations that I pulled for this review may vary in the final printed version.

Thanks for reading!

The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3) by Rick Yancey

The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3) by Rick Yancey

thelaststarThe Last Star is the final entry in The 5th Wave, a trilogy about aliens, teenagers and the end of the world. It is also a morality play about what matters. Why do cars, jobs and stuff matter so much when, in the end, it is all about our relationships and love.

I’m sorry to say that I found the ending to be unsatisfying. Yancey wove such a puzzling yarn that I felt like he didn’t completely untangle all the knots. To be fair, there was a lot going on. But, I read the last pages and I felt a big, internal: “huh?”

This book also reminded me of The Road. “From piles of blackened bones to corpses wrapped head to toe in tattered sheets and old blankets, just lying there in the open like they’d dropped from the sky, alone or in groups of ten or more. So many bodies that they faded into the background, just another part of the mess, another piece of the urban vomit.”pg 70.

The Last Star also raised big questions about civilization and its durability. How thin is the veneer on civilization? What would it take for humanity to turn on itself? Most dystopian writers say, not much.

I don’t know. I’m of two minds on the issue. One part of me says, civilization is a flimsy set of agreements that could easily crumble with enough fear, famine and plague.

The other part of me, the eternal optimist side, says that there is something within each of us that even the worst calamity couldn’t touch.

Kill the body, yes. Kill hope, yes. But kill the soul and its purpose? No. I feel like that part would find a way. And part of that soul’s purpose, I think, is connection to others. That means, civilization. So, there’s something more permanent to it, something fated.

Anyway, The 5th Wave as a three-part story is intense, gritty and could lead to some excellent discussions because it leaves a lot of open-ended questions and ambiguous answers. Rather like life.

Thanks for reading!