“Replica” by Jenna Black

I apologise for the lack of reviews on this blog lately – I’ve been in the middle of a move (from Providence, RI to Oberlin, OH) and the whole process took much more time than I thought it would. I don’t want to promise any specific numbers, but I’ll definitely be blogging more frequently now.

Replica came out a couple of weeks ago (July 16), although I wrote this review a few months ago after I read the ARC.

ReplicaI have a secret weakness for young adult dystopian novels; although the worldbuilding is often much too simplistic and the lead characters tend to be a grating mix of far too powerful and really angsty. They make great fun reads when I’m not in the mood for a serious book, though, like on really long planes where I’m half dead by the end of it. So Replica was one of the first books I packed for my 19 hour flight to India. My hopes for a quick, dumb read were squashed, though, because Replica is actually pretty  good.

The worldbuilding is still somewhat hokey – the United States has become the Corporate States. Each state is a corporation ruled by Executives, and power is hereditary. (It really gets me when authors capitalise common words and make that a pivotal thing in their world, but I digress.) This didn’t really make sense to me because to me, capitalism implies a meritocracy, even if people who are already rich have a headstart – the idea of high level employees of a company grooming their “heirs” to take over their jobs is confusing. I mean, maybe it would work if every Executive owned their own company, but each state is its own corporation. (Also the idea of named classes of people is hilarious, although this is certainly not unique to this book.)

I know, I said the book was good and immediately started nitpicking, but trust me, this is a good sign. I wouldn’t be so interested in how the book’s world worked unless I cared enough to keep thinking about it.

So, what is the book about? Nadia, a high ranking Executive is engaged to Nate, the Chairman Heir of the state formerly known as New York. Although she hates all the pressures on her as a female Executive, she’s pretty happy with her life. But then, Nate ends up murdered and although a Replica of him is created from his last memory backup, his family wants answers… and she was the last person to see him alive.

The main characters were pretty good – Nadia is definitely flawed and is confused and out of her depth through most of the book, but once she gets decisive, she’s great. Nate is very exasperating, he is very reactionary and self-centered and continues to be so even when other characters point this out to him. He has good intentions though, so he ends up being pretty likeable. The other characters are not as well fleshed out as I’d like, but there’s a nice set of them.

I loved that the usual romance is subverted; instead of Nate and Nadia barely knowing each other but being infatuated with each other, they’re best friends but very much not in love. Although, the book ends up more towards familiar romance-y territory by the end.

The thing that got me most about this book was the characters’ reactions to things. People communicate to each other way too much – there isn’t enough interpersonal conflict. I never thought I’d complain about this (I often get very frustrated with characters who don’t just talk to each other – Wheel of Time, I’m looking at you). And although there’s a lot of outrage going around, the characters get over it pretty quickly.

The plot was well paced and pretty well resolved, although I wish the “evil secret” had been fleshed out a little more. There’s definitely going to be a sequel, but the book should stand pretty well on its own.

I wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it surprised me. I’ll be keeping an eye out for sequels.

Replica by Jenna Black (Replica, #1)
Tor Teen, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake coverI’ve been working on Oryx and Crake for a while, but finally finished it on the plane back to the United States. I received this book for SantaThing, LibraryThing’s secret santa program (Thanks, Marie!), so I was especially excited to read this book.

I’ve only read one Margaret Atwood book before, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I thought was a great book. (I really need to buy myself a copy at some point.) Even though that was quite a disturbing story, I found Oryx and Crake infinitely more horrifying. Perhaps it is because The Handmaid’s Tale was about a whole system, and told the story of individuals caught in it. Oryx and Crake is about the individuals who created the system, and it is much more horrifying when individuals change the course of the world, and you see an intimate portrait of who they are.

The blurb on the back of the book is pretty vague about what the book is about. I think I got a lot from the experience of letting the book unfold without knowing much about it, so I don’t want to talk too much about what happens. We follow Jimmy, alias Snowman, in his life after the “flood” that wiped out humanity as he watches over the Children of Crake. Much of the book tells the story of Jimmy and how he ended up in this situation, as well as the stories of Oryx and Crake, as seen through Jimmy’s eyes.

The future world is pretty appalling – corporations have secured cities called Compounds where their employees live and work. The rest of the world live in “pleeblands” – dangerous, lawless cities. Corporations dominate the world, using advanced scientific techniques to create animals, pills, self-help tapes – anything that will increase their profit margin and make consumers even more dependent on them.

However, the real focus of the book is on the characters. Jimmy, Oryx and Crake are all characters with serious problems, but it seems like everyone in that world has serious problems by modern day standards. Jimmy makes a very interesting narrator, he seems so hapless (and has terrible survival skills) and stupid, compared to the people he reminisces about. Jimmy the neurotypical, as he is called at one point. Since we only see the other characters through his eyes, we don’t know what actually happened and what is just his interpretation of what happened. He is not without his own insecurities, so it is quite probable that his opinions are coloured by them.

I don’t think I can say much more about the book without ruining certain plot elements, so I won’t say much more. All the characters’ psychologies are scarily real, and this book stuck with me for days afterward. I still keep occasionally thinking about parts of it.

I will read The Year of the Flood, set in the same world and part of a proposed trilogy, but not until a couple of months have passed. It would make me too sad to read it right away.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam, #1)
Nan A. Talese, 2003 | Buy the book