While attempting to finish the first chapter of this, I felt as though my brain were part of a chain gang, sentenced to menial labor for life. Generally, I don't expect my YA SFF/post-apocalyptic thrillers to bore me or make me feel like I have to work just to finish one page, but Flashfall did. The story didn't grab me and pull me in. I couldn't picture the main character or her tools or her home. And when that happens, I wonder if the author can.
My main issue with Flashfall, though, has less to do with the prose but much more to do with the fact that it is both an uninspired and an unashamed reworking of The Hunger Games.
I understand the importance of The Hunger Games in the renaissance and continued popularity of dystopian or post-apocalyptic thrillers in YA. I adore the original books and I love their exploration of the media and repressive government (you can read more of my rambling musings here). I even think that books in the vein of THG can succeed if they have the right vibe. For example, Victoria Scott's Fire and Flood is quite similar to THG in that it involves a spunky heroine in a competition to save a sibling's life. However, Scott's book has a lighter tone and incorporates more fantastic elements. The overall tone of the book is more ... fluffy than Hunger Games ever was.
However, when I'm reading a book and it becomes a checklist of Hunger Games plot points and characters, I focus more on comparisons than on the story. Flashfall was extremely frustrating to try to read. Not only did I constantly compare characters and organizations to those in Collins' novels, but there was something about the prose that I found practically impenetrable. The more I read, the more I believe that there is something special about certain authors, something that compels you to keep reading. I did not find that here.
The story is set in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic world suffering from the effects of "flashfall"--a sort of post-nuclear instability in the atmosphere that poisons anyone on the surface with radiation. It also creates these storms that fling rocks everywhere and generally make life on the surface extremely unpleasant. After Flashfall, some humans lived underground and called themselves Subpartisans, which is a really horrible name to choose for yourselves, because of course the ruling oligarchy is going to call you "Subpar." This governmental power, the Congress, promises Subpars that if they mine enough of a special mineral, they can go to the city and be safe from radiation poisoning.
Hmm, is that a bit like the life of ease and luxury promised to winners of the annual Hunger Games?
The main character, Orion, is a miner like her mother. Her partner, Dram, is her best friend, but lately she's been feeling attracted to him. Rye (I am not kidding, that is her nickname. Why wouldn't you pick Ori???) has a secret--she can hear this special mineral, cirium, singing to her when she's underground. At the beginning of the book, she and Dram embark on this Epic Quest to find enough cirium to guarantee their safety. Rye is especially concerned because Dram's radmeter is pushing yellow/orange--he could die of radiation poisoning quite soon. When they return with news of a massive cirium deposit, representatives of the Congress are waiting. Thankfully, Rye's father, who is a doctor, whisks her away for treatment before their questioning tactics become too severe.
Before the miners can return for the cirium, a huge storm brews up and destroys most of the outpost. There's this whole deal with an exiled miner who's brought back to die in the radiation, only someone else dies for him instead and there is a very elaborate ceremony held to honor his memory. More colonists are brought in, including a little girl that Rye tries to protect.
Let me back up for a moment, and rewrite those few paragraphs.
The main character, Katniss, is a hunter like her father taught her to be. Her best friend and partner, Gale, is becoming less of a brother and something more, someone attractive. Katniss is an exceptional hunter, and has saved her family with her hunting numerous times. When the Capitol, a bunch of oligarchs concerned only with their own power, holds a Reaping for the annual Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to save her sister. Her mother, a healer, would have died if Prim had gone. While in the games, many tributes die en masse, leaving Katniss with an unlikely ally in the young Rue, whom she tries to protect.
Do you see what I mean? It's like dystopian mad libs.
I couldn't move any further than this. I assume she goes to the Congress/Capitol and realizes (shocker!) that they're totally lying to the Subpars and that no one is ever going to be saved by mining enough cirium.
And honestly, I don't know how to describe the prose other than boring. It's not vomit-inducingly awful, nor is it overly flowery. It's just (omigosh yes I'm going to say it!): subpar.
I'd recommend this for teens who cannot get enough dystopian sci-fi, who don't mind formulaic plots, and who have a lot of time to kill. There's much better variations on this concept out there, though. I think teens will realize that. I trust them. Real or not real?
I received an ARC from the publisher.
This was a post for ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat. I truly hope that things get more positive from here on out. To see what other bloggers have been reading to clear their ARC shelves this August, click here!