Reckoning (Silver Blackthorn, Book One)

Love it or hate it, you have to admit that Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy is a very, very good example of young adult dystopian literature. The world is fleshed-out and believable, the bad guys are BAD, the populace is sufficiently beaten-down and repressed, and Katniss is a likeable, relatable protagonist. I realized upon my last rereading of Catching Fire that I relate to her--a lot. And really, the whole Gale vs. Peeta thing isn't even that much of a thing in the books--it's something that the fandom stirred up and made larger than it really is. What's unique about Katniss' situation as savior is that it's not something she asked for or tried to do--she was actually kept in the dark and it was something she had to adjust to and take on, even if it seemed too difficult or too much for one girl.

I know, this review isn't about The Hunger Games, but I'm going to be referring to it a lot, so I figured I'd just lead with the outstanding points of that book. Given its success, we have a lot of other YA dystopias out there (some of which are definitely more sci-fi than true dystopia). Many of them skew heavily toward the romantic side of things, as if two hundred extra pages of kissy-kissy-goo-goo-eyes-love-triangle can substitute for plot. If done well, yes, it can add a lot to the book. Most of the time, however, these "romances" are charred husks of instalove that are portrayed as normal and healthy relationships. But that, too, is a whole other review. Yet, at least with many of these romance-heavy dystopias, the ideas are more original and they don't seem to borrow as heavily from Collins.

I'm quite torn on Reckoning, actually. It was enjoyable, but it was quite derivative of The Hunger Games in an almost over-the-top way, and the ending was completely unbelievable (not like, "Wow, that was unbelievably good!" but more like "I literally cannot believe that.").

What I very much liked about Reckoning was the mash-up between dystopian and high fantasy. This is our future--not far future, but far enough away. The oil's run out. There were wars between nations and wars within nations. The people in what used to be the United Kingdom survived another civil war that completely destroyed the country. King Victor, now monarch of the realm, was the charismatic leader that brought peace to the island and devised a way to get rations to the citizens. The whole country is divided into four Realms based on the points of the compass. Silver Blackthorn, our protagonist, lives in the north, in a village called Martindale. Scotland is something they don't talk about (this could be a great plot point in further books!). King Victor rules from Windsor Castle, and the law is enforced by Kingsmen, a class of neo-knights in post-apocalyptic armor. "Everything they wear is made of a thin, flexible metal that no one else seems to have access to. They have black tunics, matching trousers and shiny boots, as well as helmets that arch over their head and ears. Even their thinkwatches are made of the same black material." Thinkwatches are not out of the realms of possibility--Samsung has already developed a wristwatch-phone hybrid. Thinkwatches "remind us of what we need to do each day and when each night's curfew is ... everyone has to use their thinkwatches to enter and exit buildings and pick up the weekly rations." Thinkwatches also serve as displays of your social status: which class you belong to, bringing us to: the Reckoning.

As in all good dystopian societies, the populace is heavily stratified. At age sixteen, everyone must take a test called the Reckoning. It's different for everyone, but it assigns you your place in society: Elite, Member, Intermediate, and Trog. The problem that I had with this system is that the categories are not well explained. They're just ... there. Elites are the best--but I don't know what they're the best at or how they're used specifically in society. What do Members do, and what makes them different from Inters? Trogs, we learn, do menial tasks, but life seems to be pretty dismal everywhere, so I would assume that most jobs aren't exactly easy-peasy. The classes play a larger role in the beginning of the book, and then they just sort of peter out of the narrative, only appearing when Silver has to identify someone whose name she doesn't know: she'll say, "That girl Inter" or "two Elites from the West." Hmmm.

Then, each year, a random lottery (ha) selects male and female members of each group from each Realm to be Offerings. These Offerings are sent to Windsor Castle to serve the king and ... do mysterious, secretive things. They're never heard from again, but no one seems to think this is very suspicious.

Of course, Silver is chosen to be a Tribute oops Offering, and leaves her family and childhood friend/possible crush/future member of love triangle Gale Opie (which is a very unfortunate name choice for my brain, because all I could picture was a wee Ron Howard in a checked shirt, carrying a fishing pole). There are these really big parties in the cities to send off the Offerings because the citizens feel that this is a great honor. Even on Reaping Day Reckoning Day, sorry, the whole town turns out to honor the teens who will be taking the test.

Do you see why this book irritated me? I mean, the Offerings are even transported to Windsor via train, and there is a huge emphasis on feasting and food. Wilkinson's descriptions of the feasts, however, certainly can't touch Collins' masterfully mouthwatering odes to food (those make me salivate even now). Many of the plot points and concepts come directly from earlier dystopians. I'm fine with expanding on ideas, but just plain borrowing them isn't impressive to me.

Silver, too, is a character who had potential, but her individuality disappeared right after her Reckoning. She's a whiz with technological stuff (which is verboten in the Kingdom), but that doesn't stop her from digging through old tech, taking it apart, and tinkering with her thinkwatch in order to get rations for her family. I think it's awesome to portray girls in the sciences so positively in a teen book. However, although Silver's assignment at the Castle also has to do with tech, it takes a definite backseat to Plotting To Escape With The Cute And Sensitive Boy You Just Met. She's a loner and an outsider (naturally), yet has a defiant streak. She also, handily, has a silver streak in her hair (this is where I started getting things confused with The Murder Complex, in which the heroine also has silver hair).

The plot contains far too many instances of the deus ex machina for my taste (would that be dei ex machina? Sorry, I didn't study Latin). Many crises are averted by handy revelations or sudden insights. For example, Silver somehow figures out that borodron, the mysterious metal, overrides all of the scanners that normally require thinkwatches to operate. You'd think that the King and the Minister Prime, as obsessed with control as they are, would fix that GAPING HOLE IN SECURITY. Also, Silver is able to sneak into the Minister Prime's office because "the Minister Prime knew it was possible for someone to walk into his office and use there borodron armour--or a stolen scrap--to access his thinkpad. He knew it could happen--but he was filled with the absolute arrogance that no one would dare. When you have that level of delusion, it's no wonder you don't do something as simple as closing a door."

Wait, what? Everything that happens in the last few chapters is because the Minister Prime is so arrogant he thinks he's above being burgled? It just doesn't fit in with his character or with the kingdom he rules.

However, I will say that the scenes at the castle are suitably horrifying, and in King Victor, Wilkinson has created a villain who frightens, disgusts, and yet inspires contempt because of his weaknesses. He is the epitome of corruption.

There is a lot of promise in the castle scenes, and I wish we learned more about this world rather than hearing about Imrin and Silver's deep conversations. I would read the sequel to this to see how it pans out, but if it ends up being a retread of Catching Fire, I don't think I can support that.

I received an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


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