Friday, May 20, 2016

Untamed - Madeline Dyer (Untamed #1)

Untamed (Untamed, #1) 
Untamed has been on my radar for a while and, to be honest, I had been avoiding it because I didn't think it would be very good.  I'm not quite sure what instilled this thought in my mind; maybe it was because it sounded like a generic young adult dystopian and my experiences with those have been mixed at best, maybe it's because the cover rubbed me the wrong way; the visual, to me, is lovely, but the way the title and author name are formatted grate on my nerves for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on.  But Untamed is turning a year old today, so I decided to give it a read--and I'm delighted to say that I was very, very wrong about that "it won't be good" impression that had somehow instilled itself in my brain.

The story follows Seven, a teenage girl who is one of the last Untamed in a world of people who have mostly been Enhanced.  Enhanced people have mirror-like eyes while the Untamed have normal eyes (I love this; special eyes are one of my favorite tropes) and the Enhanced aren't really capable of emotions, supplementing their feelings with bottled concoctions that can replicate the feeling of emotions, but only positive ones, like calmness.  This whole thing is kind of akin to how the inhabitants of Wonderland consume emotions derived from captured Earthlings or "oysters" in Syfy's awesome miniseries Alice.

The Enhanced can also consume other substances to give them super-human abilities like super speed; the substances, both the ability-givers and the emotions, are called augmenters, and once you've been augmented, the Untamed say you can never go back.  This seems particularly true for Seven, who finds herself kidnapped by the Enhanced while out raiding with other members of her group.  She's dragged back to the Enhanced city and promptly augmented and given the new name of Shania, which I hated because all I could think of was Shania Twain.  Seriously, this was running through my head the entire time I was reading the book:

It wasn't really appropriate mood-music.

Seven gets rescued, but her very presence puts her entire group in danger, and soon they--or what's left of them--are running from the Enhanced, who seem to think that Seven is the key to them becoming all-powerful or something.  Seven really only gets support from her group because she turns out to be a Seer, a skill that has cropped up in her family before but which she hadn't previously shown an affinity for.

Seven's Seer skill was pretty neat.  When she falls asleep, she enters the Dreamland, and has visions of things that will happen in the future, some of them more clear than others.  Though, in retrospect, the usefulness of this skill is somewhat questionable because at least one of the visions doesn't actually come close to coming true in the book.  It might be reserved for a future book, but the content of the vision combined with the note the book ended on doesn't make it seem likely, and Seven actually never really did anything to avert that one, so maybe her visions aren't all they're cracked up to be after all?  Intentional or plot hole?  The world may never know.  Anyway, she has to always wear a pendant passed down from her mother, another Seer, that protects her, or else she might get stuck in the Dreamland and never return.  And there's something about a symbolic bison who shows up there, which was neat but which I'm not really sure I understood the full symbolic significance of.

This book also deals with an interesting topic that I don't think a lot of young adult books do, and that's addiction.  It manifests itself a little differently in this, and it's kind of implied that it might be because Seven is Special, but she's definitely addicted to augmenters once she receives them, and she spends much of the book battling that addiction in secret, because bringing it out into the open could show her group how much she really is like the Enhanced, and then they might ditch her.  I've never had an addition (except maybe buying nail polish) but I thought Seven's came across as realistic.  She spends so much of her time fighting against the urge to give in, while simultaneously fighting to not let anyone else know in case they hate her for it.  To tell you the truth, I kind of sneered at her for this, groaning about why didn't she just get rid of the augmenter, while at the same time knowing that it wasn't that simple for her.  It made her a not-entirely-savory character, which is unfortunate but also true to life.

Though the writing, editing, and general characters were excellent, there were two things that I didn't particularly like about this book.  First, the main plot is a bunch of people running from another bunch of people, and not a heck of a lot actually happening other than this.  I'm going to make a comparison here that many will find flattering but isn't meant to be: it's like in Mad Max: Fury Road, where the bulk of the movie is literally some people driving to a place, and then turning around and coming back.  Sure, there's some fighting that happens along the way, but in the end it's kind of a fruitless road trip.  There wasn't a lot of substantive plot underlying this.  But that does bring me to the second thing I didn't like: the "romance," if you can even call it that.  It didn't feel like a romance at all, not even one of the more subtle young adult variety.  It was more like "I am aware of your presence and oh suddenly I am in love with you," and while I liked both characters involved, I didn't like how this "relationship" suddenly appeared without having too much development behind it.  It was just "meh" at best.

I think this story holds a lot of promise.  Seeing Seven's abilities develop will be interesting, and I'm also curious as to if she and her companions will try to penetrate the Enhanced civilization and bring it down, or work from the outside; if Seven will end up taken by the Enhanced again and have to fight to regain herself and her freedom, a la the Uglies series; and if her relationship will develop into something a little more substantial (I hope it does).  The writing here is excellent, far above the quality of most indies, and I could definitely tell how much work Dyer put into making sure it was publish-ready.  I really appreciate that.  I do wish that a bit more had actually happened in the book, but I think it's well set up for the sequel (I don't know when that's scheduled to come out) and I'll definitely pick up the next book when it arrives.  This was a solid young adult dystopian novel, and while it wasn't my absolute favorite, I think it's definitely worth a read.

3.5 to 4 stars out of 5.

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