We're still getting orientated on the blog, but today, we're reviewing Elsie Chapman's Dualed.
Dystopian Monday is when we review books with dystopian themes. They may be upcoming titles, or slightly older one we're just discovering!
The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.
Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.
Elsie Chapman's suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.
The overarching premise of Dualed plays on one of the oldest fears in human existence - the fear of the ghostly double, or the doppelgänger. Since the Egyptians, people have feared seeing their double, because it was commonly viewed as a portent or foreshadowing of death.
In Dualed, Chapman ups the ante by making the doppelgänger an actual harbinger of death. Because in the city of Kersh, citizens have to fight their genetic doubles or Alts to the death before their twentieth birthday. Those who survive, are able to live out their days in relative comfort. But that's only IF you survive.
For fifteen-year-old West Grayer, taking down her Dualed is something that she's trained for almost her entire life. However, after an accident, she starts questioning her ability to face off with her Alt.
Things that worked:
* Chapman doesn't hesitate from building a world that is bleak and dangerous. The main characters routinely see people get killed in front of them, and are constantly discussing the possibility of their own deaths. There's no hand-holding in Kersh, a writing decision which I thought was brave, and honestly, comparable to the Hunger Games.
* The pace. The reader is thrown into the action immediately, and Chapman only keeps ratcheting up the anticipation. The plotting is masterful, and I spent the second half of the novel biting my lip.
* West's characterization. Unlike the rash of Mary Sues in YA lit, West is difficult to like. She's prickly. She does things that would make you recoil from her if she were a real person. I found this to be a refreshing change, quite frankly.
Because she has qualities that make us dislike her, West ultimately becomes more human, and more understandable. It makes the journey of us eventually coming around to her, more rewarding.
Things to consider
I've seen West described as being difficult to like, especially in her treatment of Chord. While I don't disagree, I also think her personality is very spot-on for her age.
When I was fifteen, I would have been upset if I felt like someone was merely copying me in terms of how I dressed or presented myself. I can't even imagine being fifteen and 1) seeing the people I love constantly get killed, 2) knowing I'll eventually have tokill my double, and 3) recognizing that the way I think isn't unique to me, and can lead to death.
The fact that West can still think on her feet and can work as a Striker, is a testament to her strength.
As for her prickly behavior toward Chord - West's age pretty much means that she doesn't have the emotional experience or capacity to acknowledge that she's not letting him in, because she's scared to lose him too. Again, pretty realistic, I think.
I think Dualed is an excellent dystopian/sci-fi novel, which challenges your beliefs of what it is to be human, and an individual. I highly recommend this book for people who've enjoyed The Hunger Games, Partials and some Philip K. Dick titles.
The book leaves a lot of open-ended questions, which I look forward to Elsie answering in the sequel