As a child, I was obsessed with horses. I could name all the different breeds. I pretended to "go through my paces" in the backyard. My parents, long-suffering and wonderful, bought me oodles of horse figurines. More than anything, I wanted a horse. I wanted to grow up and own horses and ride them around and screech "HORSIES!" all the time.
I think that an obsession with horses is pretty par for the course for a lot of kids, but I still cringe when I think of my earnest nerdiness. It certainly didn't help matters that I had a lisp and for several years, had difficulty with my "r"s. Tho when I tawlked about howtheth, I thounded like thith. With no awths. It's supremely embarrassing, although my parents assure me it was "cute." Uh-huh. Cute.
But now that I am grown up (so says the calendar, alas), I have learned to embrace all that is geeky and nerdy in me because it is who I am. Although I've moved on from horses to books and goats and Doctor Who, I still love horses. So when Titans finally came in to the library, the horsey angels descended and whinnied a heavenly tune as I checked out my book about mechanical equines.
Titans is a fantastic book. Phenomenal. I adore it--for very different reasons than why I adored I Crawl Through It or The Rest of Us Just Live Here or All the Rage. Titans is a rather straightforward book about friendship, trust, and the mighty bond between humans and animals (even mechanical animals). One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most about the last book I read by Victoria Scott, Fire and Flood, was the relationship between the main character and her Pandora (animal companion). Scott excels at writing animals. If she continues this way, she could be modern fantasy's answer to Mercedes Lackey in the animal-awesomeness department. I know that's not a prediction to make lightly. However, some people just have a gift for writing animal/human friendships, and I think Scott is one to watch in SFF for this.
This is a feel-good story. You won't be surprised by the ending, and it isn't a paradigm shift in how YA is written. But that's not a bad thing! I've been having a rough time of it ("it" being life, the universe, and everything) lately, and I needed something comfy-cozy to curl up with at night. I found it in this book.
In the near-future (or an alternate present), the economy has crashed again, hitting factory workers hard. They shuffle from city to city, trying and failing to keep their jobs and support their families. Astrid Sullivan's father moved their family to Detroit after her grandfather lost everything gambling in Wisconsin. But the job situation here isn't any better, and after being laid off, her dad struggles to find work. Astrid and her best friend Magnolia (whose dad is in the same boat) escape the despair of their lives by sneaking off to the Titan racetrack and watching these splendid machines run. Titans are a new form of entertainment developed to enthrall the masses and take their money--the money they don't have in the first place. For the Titan organizers, it's a win-win situation. For people like Astrid's dad, it is their downfall. For Astrid, it may be her family's salvation.
Astrid has always dreamed of racing a Titan. Built like horses, with metal-threaded manes and bellies full of machinery, Titans depend on the skill of their riders to successfully complete racecourses filled with traps like pits and flaming arrows. But Titan-riding is for the rich; Titan-betting is for the poor. Astrid will never ride a Titan.
Until one day, when she shows kindness to an older man near the racetrack. Rags, as he prefers to be called, is your quintessential grumpy old man mentor. Except Rags is a grumpy old mentor with a very special Titan--one that Astrid can ride. But it's not as simple as "ride mechanical horse, win race, win money, save family." Of course not! Titan-racing is its own cosseted world, with balls and manners and sponsors to win.
Throughout everything--even etiquette training and formal balls--Astrid never forgets where she came from. She's proud to be working-class. She's scrappy and won't hesitate to throw a punch. Like Katniss, she brings hope to the down-trodden. Unlike Katniss, she actually wants to participate in this dangerous sporting event. Oh, and she's also a math genius, which gives her an edge in calculating turn speeds and angles. I was so happy to see a girl into math and science and for it to be portrayed as normal and not "geeky" or "weird."
I've seen a lot of readers express disappointment that there isn't a bodice-rippingly smoldering romance in Titans. Guess what? THAT'S AWESOME! I loved that Scott focused on the power of friendship instead of the usual strong-friends-but-hey-there-hot-stuff-see-you-later-BFF plotline that usually pops up in YA SFF. Plus, a great horse + girl relationship pushes all my buttons in all the right ways, especially when that horse is a cocky mechanical powerhouse named Padlock.
Despite its grim setting, this is a very happy book. I finished with a smile on my face and the nascent wish for a Titan of my very own. But I'd certainly settle for a flesh-and-blood horse, please and thank you.
This is National Velvet, turbo-powered.