All her life, Rio has lived in Atlantia, the city Below, with her twin sister Bay. She has always dreamed of going Above, a chance that comes once in a lifetime--but in the wake of their mother's death, Rio promises Bay she'll turn down the opportunity to go above so that they can stay together, and is shattered when Bay betrays her and chooses to go Above herself, leaving Rio alone in Atlantia. Immediately, Rio becomes consumed with finding a way to escape Atlantia, because she can't take back her choice to stay, and also has to manoeuvre around her aunt Maire, a siren of immense power who might have had something to do with Rio's mother's death.
Stories about Atlantis always seem so cool when you read about them. Sometimes they're super cool in execution, too; I haven't read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea yet (which I think has a part about Atlantis in it?) but one of my favorite animated movies is Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which is supposed to be based roughly on Leagues. So I was hoping for something really awesome in Atlantia. I didn't find it. The world is based on an extremely weak concept, which makes everything else hang off of it and also be weak. Basically, the idea is that the air on the planet became so bad that people decided it was easier to build a city underwater for some people to live in; everyone who had to stay on the surface had someone who went to safety Below, to ensure their good behavior. Why building a city underwater instead of just building a bubbled-in city on land with filtered air makes sense, I don't know. How the people of Atlantia got their air, because there are no plants or anything that actually produces oxygen Below, I don't know. Why the people of Above decided that they were going to spend all of their lives enslaved to providing all of Atlantia's resources, because it cannot provide anything for itself, I don't know; sure, at first it might have been the "we have your children" thing, but this set-up lasted generations, and at some point you don't have anyone you know on the other side, so what's the point? It involves all of the people having really stupid names, like Oceana and Rio and Bay (which I kept reading as Bae; hey, bae) and oh my god, True. Because living underwater means that all typical naming conventions go out the window and everyone suddenly has to have super weird names. It involves Rio (who is a siren, by the way; I might have forgotten to mention that) successfully hiding a pretty much impossible to hide gift her entire life, and then using it in a few basic commands to different people and things, and then her aunt saying that she can save them all because she has a pure, unused voice, except she doesn't because she has used, even if it was in small ways. It involves Bay actually not telling her sister why she went Above and left Rio below, except in a note that wasn't supposed to be delivered until after Rio tried to go Above, an attempt which, by the way, should have killed her, so what's with the note, anyway? And sirens can't live Above? Why? I thought they were human; Rio blatantly says so at the beginning. This book made no sense.
Oh, and Rio is so stupid. She does not see a single thing coming her way. At all. Not even when it's super obvious. She goes off alone, multiple times, with people she suspects might have had a hand in murdering her mother. She decides she's going to swim to the surface even though she knows she's deep enough that her lungs will burst from the pressure if she attempts it. And she actually believes that people cannot have meaningful relationships outside of their families, because only blood matters--you know, like the blood that ties her to her aunt who she thinks murdered her mother. Because that is such a good relationship (it is ultimately more complex than that, of course, but why even go down that road if that's what you think? why?) to pursue, but you can't bother making a single friend who isn't your sister because there's no blood tie there. Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid.
This was an extremely weak book. I think it had a cool concept that could have gone awesome places, but Condie just turned it into another walk in the park dystopian story, with no real unique dimensions or strong, interesting characters to distinguish it. She could have done so much with this setting, but she didn't. Super disappointing.
1.5 stars out of 5.