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Welcome to Berg’s Book Club, as you learned last week from my The Book of Dust review, Berg is my little Daemon. He is a soft, kind soul that hates washing machines and is cheeky to me and likes to cause mischief for his brothers and sister.
This week, he is helping me review a book I never had high hopes for. It’s one of those books where a friend tells you how bad it is that you just have to go and look at it yourself.
It was my friend’s presentation in class that made me want to read this book. It’s a pity – I’ve been reading many dystopian books that have potential and don’t quite make it.
Berg and I both think this is one of them. It has so much potential, but just like Ally Condie – Kiera Cass does not use it to build the world around her characters.
Here’s the thing. I honestly love fairy tales that are reimagined. I read one recently and it was great (I might reread it for a review) but this one was awful. I’m surprised it stretched to five books – not because of the storyline, but because of how the author tells the storyline.
The story is based on the fairy tale of Cinderella. A prince is looking for a wife and all eligible women are able to apply for a spot but only 35 of them make it through the first stage. Sounds good so far and that’s why I thought it had potential- it could have a good storyline. There is so much the author could have done to this story.
Tugging my ear. Whenever.”
Everyone is part of what is known as the caste system. A system where you are given a number to show your status – the lower the number, the higher the status. I like this idea, it shows how flawed the society is that Cass is trying to build.
The upper class are between one and three. The Royals and their family are one obviously, threes can be teachers, doctors etc.
The middle class are four and five. Fours are business people, I don’t know why they are lower than teachers as I’d assume they’d earn more money unless they were a really small business. Then the fives are entertainers and artists.
For the lower class, sixes are servants, waiters etc and sevens are manual labourers. Eights are known as the untouchables. They receive no education, are traitors, orphans or are disabled physically or mentally. As someone who is disabled, I can see a dystopian world putting us into this category.
You are born or married into your caste system – but the protagonist hints that you can buy yourself a higher title as her older brother wants to buy the title of a two. Also, if you are born disabled or are an orphan, I assume your birth rights are wiped. I also assume same-sex marriage would be illegal or frowned upon because you take the caste of the male you marry. So it deals with a lot of issues in society – or rather features them.
Cass doesn’t develop them at all. She has all the features and all the opportunities, but the focus is on the protagonist and the prince. I really do like the idea of the caste system for this world but it is not explained more in-depth. Where it came from, how long it has existed, what are the effects per caste and what happens with all the issues mentioned above.
As most the story takes place in the palace, the only time you see anything being done to improve the life of the lower castes is when America makes Maxon see the truth behind it and he makes his father set up a food bank – which in my opinion seemed too easily considering the father didn’t listen to anyone else’s advice until this moment.
The caste system is great for the story but it needs a lot of development.
The protagonist is a five, which means that she is among artists and entertainers and my friend made an interesting point, considering how we treat art in education now, how we see it as something so insignificant and unimportant, would it really be a middle-class ranking and would it really be above the job of a servant? What do you think?
However, I do like the idea of the futuristic caste system she tried to set up in a dystopian society. I’m not a huge fan of the characters names. Here’s why.
- America Singer – one letter short of becoming American Singer. Cass uses the surname Singer because America’s family are entertainers and America is talented with her voice. I feel Cass was trying to symbolise America as the American dream but she could have chosen a different name and got the affect she wanted. Essentially, more subtlety is needed
- Aspen Leger – Really, the only problem I have with this name is it makes me think of a brand of aspirin. In reality, Aspen is a ski resort, so if you look at this way, this character takes you up and down and I can see that. He is a bit of a jerk, constantly getting America’s hopes up and then destroying them but the name also makes me think of a brand of aspirin.
- Emmica – Too close to America and I see it as a variation of the name “America”. This character is a minor character but is mentioned enough that it bugs me. I mentioned in my other book review, Glasdrum the problem with naming characters similar names.
America Singer, one day you will fall asleep in my arms every night. And you’ll wake up to my kisses every morning.
The only people who seem to have decent names are the royal family, some of the 35 girls who made it through to the second phrase and America’s siblings. So basically no one important unless they are the royal family.
During the journey, America learns more about her country. It used to be the USA but was destroyed by China and renamed the American State of China then someone from the Illea family freed the country and renamed it Illea, which is how it gained a royal family. Not too bad, but I find the currency used weird.
The British are not mentioned at all, but the small amounts of money are called pennies. Should it not be something either completely made up or linked to China? That is who destroyed America after all. Makes no sense to me… I thought the British were involved for a while.
On the actual storyline front, the outline isn’t bad. Like many stories, it has a love triangle. The whole point of the selection is that Maxon finds his perfect wife. He loves America because she is honest with him, and quite often rude, but America loves Aspen and Maxon. Mostly Aspen.
When Aspen breaks up with her, she sees how much of a jerk he really is. Aspen says he doesn’t want America to have the same caste system as him because he is a six and therefore is a servant who does not get paid a lot. He tells her to sign up for the selection even though she doesn’t want to and he hates it when America treats him with food from money she has saved up and breaks up with her because of this. When she is picked for the selection, he tries to stop her going.
The Prince has 34 other people to choose from but wants to win over America after their first meeting and keeps her there as a ‘friend and consultant’ like she offered in the hope she finally does fall for him.
If this were a simpler matter, I’d have eliminated everyone else by now
Aspen is then drafted in as a royal guard and starts acting as nothing happened and they never broke up. Waking her up and kissing her, touching her up when she is most vulnerable. Something that could get them both killed for treason. If he really loved her, he wouldn’t risk her life.
The other characters seem to not develop. They are flat. Celeste is meant to be America’s enemy, but she’s a terrible one, aside from ripping her dress and provoking America’s friends so that they are either embarrassed in front of Maxon or get thrown out of the selection, she does nothing. In total, I think she only gets one girl kicked out.
There are 35 girls in the selection and only a few of them are named. Many of the named ones don’t have personalities, or they have one trait. An example is Tiny who is seen as a fragile wimp who faints under stress and nothing else.
Only America and Maxon have development arcs, and they are minor ones.
I also feel how Cass got rid of most of the girls is weak. She went from 22 to ‘the elite’ with the blink of an eye and it felt like she was doing this because she felt like she was running out of time. The elite is the top ten girls who made it through the selection.
Cass got rid of most of the girls by making some of them too afraid to stay when the palace is under threat and Maxon worries that someone is going to get hurt if this is dragged out any longer – despite the fact that the attacks didn’t come anywhere close to the royal family. I feel this is a lazy way to solve an issue if you have written yourself into a corner. I would have understood it more if one or two of the girls had gotten hurt or were killed in the attack. If that was going to happen, did there need to be the contestants – not to mention, only three or four of the losing contestants were named, so maybe Maxon should have chosen from fifteen instead.
All the ones remaining offer a benefit to the kingdom if he marries them except America but the first book ends with the Elite remaining which means that the readers would have to read the remaining four to know when – and it is obvious that it will be a when – America is selected as Maxon’s perfect wife and I think this could have been done in one book – or if Cass wanted to make the book stronger and everything that has already happened more visual and engaging by developing the storyline, then maybe two books, splitting when half the girls had gone home.
So essentially, Berg and I agree that this book could have been so much more and he is insistent that there are a few good bits that leak through the book. He says it would have been much better if lots of snow was in it– but I’m fine with the lack of it.
If you do read this book or have already, please let me know what you think in the comments.
Thanks for reading – See you next week when Berg and I will be reviewing Diablo by Fallacious Rose and please do join our little book club.