Tuesday, July 5, 2016

DNF: Children of Icarus

I remember, as a child, recognizing the immense power of the word "why."  It amused me to pester my mom with "Why?" "Why?" "Why?" as all children do.  I didn't really care about the answer, of course, but it was somehow funny to see my mom become frustrated.  Sometimes I think children are sociopaths.

However, the question "why," despite its plaintive whine, serves a great purpose as a reader's tool.  If I cannot answer why the character acts as he or she does, or why the world exists just so, then I don't see any point in reading the book at all.  The author has failed at one of his or her most vital missions: to make me believe in the world they've created.

One might argue that fantasy, specfic, and sci-fi authors have this the hardest; after all, they're using worlds that we cannot prove exist.  To my knowledge, no one's ever seen a gabbleduck on Masada, but Neal Asher makes them frighteningly real in his Polity books.

Although, come to think of it, I would wonder if anyone who's seen a gabbleduck would live to tell the tale.

Anyhoo, writers of realistic fiction have a difficult job as well: they must recreate an experience that is familiar and verifiable with enough verisimilitude that we believe in it.  All in all, authors have a rough go of it, and I salute them.

But please, please, please, answer my "why" questions.  That was something that Children of Icarus by Caighlan Smith wasn't able to do.  And that's why I didn't finish it.


Our narrator, who remains nameless throughout the story, is sixteen years old and worried.  It is the last year she can be chosen as Icarii--a teen deemed worthy to traverse the labyrinth and be made an angel by Icarus, who fell from the skies many years ago.  Only ... she's afraid.  She doesn't want to go, even though it's the highest honor her community bestows and the obsession of her best friend, Clara.

On Fallen Day, Nameless' name is called, and so is Clara's.  Their parents send them off proudly, so happy that their girls will be transformed into angels.

If by "transformed by angels" you mean torn apart by beasts and hunted by mosnsters in a labyrinth, then sure!

Clara dies almost instantly, leaving us with the very un-Katniss-like narrator.  I understand that the point is to show how people who are quiet or afraid or shy can survive and thrive in a dangerous world, but I'd prefer not to fall asleep while reading about it.  Everything quickly became tedious and fell into a compilation of Dystopian YA's Greatest Hits!, featuring such catchy tropes as:
  • OMG the establishment has been lying to us this WHOLE TIME?!?!?!
  • Teens who have survived outside of the system and lead a rebel group
  • The adorable younger kid taken under the M.C.'s wing
  • Mazes and monsters
  • A wise but probably unstable mentor
There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these concepts, but using them all at the same time feels a bit desperate, as if the book is grasping for a readership by tantalizing members of many different fandoms.

I made it about a quarter of the way through the book before I gave up, skipped to the end, and decided it wasn't for me.  Nameless is sexually assaulted at least twice by members of Fates, the community of teen survivors she ends up joining.  And while she fights back, her initial reaction to each encounter is resignation.  As if she believed that being the new girl automatically set her up to eventually be raped by someone because that's how the world works.  No.  This is the opposite of okay.

The narrative didn't hold up to scrutiny, and I would have to have suspended a ridiculous amount of disbelief to make it through.  The reader is expected to accept this world and its beliefs, but the text itself is not convincing.  There is a brief introduction to the mythology/religion of the people, but it's quite vague and is basically a retelling of the Greek Icarus myth but with a slightly more Christian slant (i.e. Icarus was an angel, Daedela was his rescuer after he fell from heaven).  I had so many questions about the mechanics of this world and why their society is structured as it is. For example:

Why do people all live in high-rises and associate only with people from their own building?

Who grows the food?

What is the ethnic and racial makeup of this world?

Why does this world exist?  What happened to create it?  Is this our future?  If so, how did we get here?

Are the Children of Icarus a means of population control?

Where did the monsters come from?

And most importantly: why send the future members of your society off to be slaughtered? Other dystopian fiction books have been able to answer these questions satisfactorily and in keeping with human nature. 

Let's examine Children of Icarus in light of the new standard for this subgenre: The Hunger Games. Reapings are the Capitol's way of keeping the districts in line with fear. They take only two tributes from each district, so there are enough young people to continue living in fear. In addition, it's a fantastic commentary on violence in the media and society as a whole, and how bombings and child school shooters and terrorism has become our new normal. What does that say about us as a supposedly advanced society?

But Children of Icarus doesn't have any of this internal logic. Everything just is and we are expected to believe it.  No dice. 

I can see this working as homage fanfic, but not standing on its own as a new work of fiction. 

I obtained an ARC of this title at BEA.

2 comments:

  1. There was a Dr Who episode in the Patrick Troughton era, "The Krotons" in which the brightest young people were sent off, apparently to be honoured, but really to be killed. Something to do with the computer running the community. The Doctor thought this suspicious, so he and his companion Zoe, a maths genius, offered to do it. It has indeed become something of a trope.

    Ah, well, just remember these books aren't written for us and I'm betting the teens rarely ask these questions.

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    1. I think if teens liked THE MAZE RUNNER they'd enjoy this. I really disliked that book because it felt so derivative of LORD OF THE FLIES. Mostly I notice younger teens and kids going for those books though-- high schoolers generally don't ask me for or about them.

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