Monday, January 4, 2016

Perfect Ruin - Lauren DeStefano (Internment Chronicles #1)

Perfect Ruin (Internment Chronicles, #1)This isn't so much a review to start the new year as it is to end the old, even though it comes in the new one.  I squeaked this title in just before the end of 2015, and it was my last-read book for the year.  It was one of the free reads on PulseIt, Simon & Schuster's social media/book promotion website where they post free books to read once or twice a week.  The books are up for two weeks; I noticed this one when there were two days left to read it, so I had to make progress fast!  Luckily, I did so, and managed to finish it before it went away.  Not that it was a difficult read, because young adult books never are, but because there was a lot else going on for vacation.  I know the PulseIt site is going down this year (I believe sometime in January) to make way for a new site, though their multiple emails on the subject have assured users that their policy of posting free reads will remain the same.  Though they don't post books I'm interested in often, I do think it's a great service for discovering young adult books, so I encourage you to check it out if that's a genre you're interested in, and I'll be sure to highlight the new service once more is known about it.  Anyway, here's the review!

Lauren DeStefano is perhaps better known for her first young adult dystopian series, The Chemical Garden, than she is for these Internment Chronicles books.  I read Wither, the first of the Chemical Garden books, in 2013 and found myself rather unimpressed by it.  The romance wasn't what I wanted, the plot wasn't what I wanted, and despite an interesting premise, the book and I just didn't click.  I didn't move on to the other books in the series, though I heard dissatisfied mutters from others--and so I was a bit apprehensive about reading Perfect Ruin.  But the description, about a city in the sky where the only rule is not to approach the edge, just seemed too delicious to ignore.

Well, it turns out that DeStefano's worldbuilding is a bit inconsistent there, because despite the fact that the "only rule" thing is stated multiple times, in the description and in the book itself, it's really clear that not approaching the edge is not the only rule.  And despite the narrator saying that everyone's life is theirs to do with what they choose, to use or to squander, that's also patently not true.  In fact, Morgan (our heroine) and her fellow Internment-ites are in a highly regimented society, and it's hard to believe that Morgan really doesn't see all of these other rules floating about her just as Internment floats about the sky.  Take the pills the government sends you.  Go to school, go to work, go to support groups, and so on and so forth.  Don't talk about this, or that, or the other...  It drives me crazy when authors are so inconsistent about their worlds, and how the characters view them, so this flip-flopping on how Internment's society functioned was extremely frustrating.  I was expecting a world more like Scott Westerfeld's Pretties, where people really are free to do whatever the hell they want, and do so--crazy parties, drinks and games and fun, not a worry to be had by most.  Interment wasn't like that, not at all, despite how it was originally made out to be.

The rules in Internment become even more prevalent following the murder of Daphne Leander, a girl in Morgan's grade who wrote a downright heretical essay about her doubts regarding the god of the sky.  Following her death, copies of the essay begin to appear all over the city, and a hunt begins for her killer--a hunt which eventually sweeps up Morgan, her friends, her betrothed, and her family.  Which was another frustrating thing for me: Morgan has very little agency.  For the most part, she's dragged along for the ride.  She does make a few choices, and they become a little more pronounced as the book goes on, but still, she's not a very active heroine.  She is a follower, not a leader; she doesn't charge into action, but merely lets herself get swept along by it.  Don't get me wrong: not every heroine has to kick butt in a very literal way.  But quiet, calm Morgan sees so many things going on around her, but hardly ever acts on them.  She seems completely content to live within Interment's confines, even though she professes to dream of the ground constantly.

Honestly, the things that redeemed this book for me are the mythology and the relationships.  Morgan's relationships with other characters feel very real, from her tenuous yet strong (contradictory, but true) bond with her brother, to her strained relations with her parents, her love for her betrothed, Basil (please don't turn this into a love triangle, it comes across as so pure and true and I'd hate to see it ruined by a love triangle trope) and her almost psychic friendship with Pen.  How Morgan deals with people and the troubled web surrounding them was so genuine that I couldn't help but like her, despite the qualms I discussed above.  And then there's they mythology, about the god of the sky and the god of the earth, and how Internment came to be and the people who believed and questioned, all of it surrounding Morgan's crisis of faith.  Because ultimately, that's what this book is about: a young woman's struggle to maintain her faith or find enough proof to cast it to the winds.  Daphne Leander's essay, portions of which headline each chapter, contributes greatly to this and makes it more prominent than it would seem from the main text alone.  But Morgan is indeed questioning, unsure of exactly where she stands, and I think that questioning is also a very real experience for people her age--sixteen--in one way or another, and it makes her easy to empathize with.

This book had its frustrating aspects, but ultimately I found the writing engrossing, the mythology and relationships beautiful, and I hope to read the other two books in this series soon.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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