Legend

By Marie Lu

I’m a member of the online art community deviantArt; I’m sure some of you have stumbled across that website in the past, and it showcases some incredible instances of art. One the artists I followed early on was an artist and aspiring author, mree. She’s a very talented artist, and spent a lot of time developing character designs for her written characters.

Well, congratulations mree (aka Marie Lu)! You need aspire no more!

Around Christmas 2011, Marie’s debut novel, Legend hit shelves. It’s very on-trend right now; a dystopian world reminiscant of The Hunger Games where all children must go through a Trial at the age of 10. The score you receive at the Trial will impact what happens to you later on – labour camps, drudgery job, or elite. Allow me to assure you that this is not The Hunger Games. I really enjoyed the setting, the characters, and how Lu creates a world that sucks you in.

Legend takes place in a future where the United States of America no longer exist. Instead we have the Colonies (as yet unseen), and the Republic. Our story takes place in the Republic, and splits between Day and June. Day is a criminal in the vein of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich, derailing the Republics plans, and helping provide for his family. June is a prodigy with a perfect Trial score, slated to be one of the most elite Republican soldiers. Their paths cross when June is tasked with tracking Day down, an endeavor that has so far proved futile for the army.

The biggest plus of Legend is the setting. It takes place in California, but it could be anywhere. And yet, there are ties to the physical place, and hints of the old USA. While a fairly short story (all things considered), the world feels comfortable, like you could visit it. There’s nothing shoved in there to make it fit, like some stories I’ve read. The plot reads well, and everything flows into each other. A lot of plot threads are left unanswered, but I will wait for the sequel(s), and assume that they will be answered there.

I admit, I wasn’t eager to pick up Legend. I did, however, recommend it to my chiropractor, who bought it as a Christmas present for his wife. After she read it, she started gushing about it, and lent it to me to read. I was completing my final semester of my Masters at the time, and didn’t have the time; I’m ashamed to admit I held onto that book for almost 3 months. When I finally did pick it up, my initial feeling was “meh”; I felt that it was generic. Then I really got into it and changed my mind. That’s what I would call the trick to this novel: don’t get stuck on thinking it’s a Hunger Games knockoff. It’s not, I promise.

Lu gives us a story of two star-crossed lovers, two 15-year-olds trying to find answers to what their leaders are doing and why. There’s romance, action, scheming, tragedy and the promise of more. Many of the plot threads are left hanging, with the promise of resolution in later books. I look forward to sequels, and seeing the future adventures of June and Day. I hope that Lu can continue with what makes her book unique, and avoids the cliches that dominate the market today.

Edit: Marie just released the news of her sequel in the Legend trilogy. The second book will be titled Prodigy, scheduled for release on Jan 23rd, 2013.

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Book Covers

I’ve mentioned before about how, at the book store I worked at, you could see the immediate difference between 9-12 books, and the teen books. Not because they were in different sections, but because the covers would change from interesting and colour to black/white/grey colours. There might have been a splash of dark red from the Scorpio cover, or blue from Beka Cooper, but all the covers are dark. Marketing towards natural teen angst, I guess.

I wonder if publishers ever realize how much they are, potentially, pushing a market away? I know when I was in my teens, I skipped straight from 9-12 books to adult novels, because the teen books were too depressing, melodramatic, and boring. Or, at least that was my opinion at the time. There were exceptions.

Cover trends vary from year to year, and can be mapped. I know they have been; 2 years ago the “it” colour was blue. Before it was black. Can you think why? (Hint: Twilight, and Mockingjay) Now we’re back to the dominant bleak cover scheme, courtesy of the popularity of dystopian stories and paranormal (re: undead) romances.

I came across a great article from Stacked! talking about covers, and this is just one in a series; I recommend it. What she has to say is quite insightful, and I agree with a lot of it. Primarily a point made at the beginning though: all these covers look alike. How does this help us get to the story the author wrote? How does this help distinguish it? They might be pretty, but how well they sell is not something I can answer.

So head over to http://www.stackedbooks.org/2012/04/cover-trends-female-body.html for a more in-depth analysis of book covers. It will make you think, the next time you go to a book store or library and peruse the covers.

Incarceron

By Catherine Fisher

I found two out very interesting things when I worked at the bookstore.

1) The subject divide between “9-12” and “teen” is huge and strict

2) Dystopian novels are huge

Now, allow me to explain. I worked at a fairly small bookstore, rather then one of those sprawling behemoths. Pros and cons to each, but it certainly highlighted to me the divide that exists between what is considered “9-12” appropriate and teen. In the younger section, everything deals with fantasy and magic, the endings are happy and the covers are, in general, decorated in bright and pastel colours. Mostly blue-themed. Move over one more rack to the teen books and every cover, almost without fail is black, or grey. Not only that, but most deal with dystopian themes.

For those of you in the dark, dystopian novels deal with dark, depressing futures, whether some malevolent force is threatening our heroes. In most cases the government is the enemy, with rigorous totalitarian control. Sometimes there has been an apocalypse. Dystopians were first popularized in works like Orwell’s 1984, and more recently with the blockbuster Hunger Games. Since that became popular, publishers have been rushing to produce more and more dystopian-themed books, with titles like Marie Lu’s Legend and Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races populating the shelves.

Another book that benefited from the surge of dark-toned teen books was Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher. This book disturbed me. Not in a bad way. In fact, there’s probably more blood and gore in Twilight then there is in Incarceron. What makes this book disturbing entirely centers on how well it’s written.

The book is written from two different points of view. The first we’re introduced to is Finn, an amnesiac who lives inside Incarceron, a prison built to contain all the criminals in the world. The prison is dark and hellish, and people eke out livings knowing they could die at any moment. The original criminals have long since perished, and generations have descended without any way out.

The second main character is Claudia, the Warden’s daughter, who lives at court and dreams of entering Incarceron and seeing the perfect society inside. As the Warden’s daughter, she is part of an important family, and it often a focus of the Queen, whom Claudia distrusts.

Incarceron was built with the intention of taking criminals and, through example and teaching by the wise men, creating the perfect society. Somewhere along the line Incarceron itself became sentient, and the program went awry. As desperate as the people inside, Incarceron seeks a way out of itself.

Neither side views it’s situation as ideal. Claudia longs to escape the medieval world that has been forced over an advanced society, and Finn is desperate to escape a prison that he does not feel he belongs to. Complicating matters, Finn might be the lost prince of Claudia’s world.

What makes this book stand out is the tone. Fisher writes amazingly well, drawing you into this twisted world. As Claudia and Finn come together, the flight to escape Incarceron becomes more and more desperate, with death and discovery never far away. Woven into this are existential questions of self. Is Finn the lost prince Giles? Or perhaps is he a creation of Incarceron, who recycles it’s dead, sometimes incorporating two bodies?

For me, what made this book so emotional is that it was lifelike. The characters were not, perhaps, overly likable. Claudia is hard and cold, but deeply intrigued by Incarceron and Finn-Giles who was once her intended fiance. Finn’s journey to find a way out of Incarceron is also a journey of self, where he is forced to try and make something of himself, instead of being what everyone else sees him to be. And there may not be a resolution.

Certainly, there was no resolution in Incarceron. A sequel, Sapphique, exists, but I have not yet been able to detatch myself from the first enough to read the second of the series. Reviews have stated that it’s not as strong as the first, without the character growth one would hope to see. But Incarceron is a master work. While I didn’t enjoy it, it’s hard to deny the merits of a book that affects your mood for months afterwards.

Suggested age: teen

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