With its Katniss-lookalike cover illustration, stark black and red cover scheme, and Hunger Games-reminiscent font, you could be forgiven for mistaking Lisa M Stasse’s The Forsaken for fan fiction. But never fear, if you didn’t make the connection, the ”if you love The Hunger Games read this!“ blurb on the back will drive home the point for you.
This is not a book that’s big on subtlety. Nor, while we’re at it, originality. Or execution.
If you’re the type who can extrapolate where this review is going based on the previous paragraph, you might as well stop there, because I highly doubt you’ll get much out of this book. If you’re the type who needs to be spoon-fed (or enjoys rubbernecking at car crashes), well, stick around for a bit.
I don’t enjoy writing negative book reviews. Slamming a book isn’t helpful for an author, and it makes me look like a mean and nasty purveyor of schadenfreude. I’m not, or at least not all the time. Mostly I’m just horribly cynical, which is an entire rung down on the Ladder of Reviewery Sadism (patent pending).
Anyway, in my review of SE Hinton’s wonderful Outsiders I commented on my increasing frustration with the YA genre for its emphasis on big hooks and marketability over quality of storytelling. Curiously, although there’s all this stuff being written about not writing down to readers at the prose level, this advice is apparently being utterly ignored at a larger conceptual level.
I can’t think of anything more patronising than creating a Frankenstein’s monster novel out of the various popular tropes of today and then packaging it so that it looks like the twin of a long-time bestseller. And let’s just say that The Forsaken reads as though it was constructed based on the advice of Amazon’s recommendation engine. It’s a creaky and lumbering mix of 1984, Minority Report, The Hunger Games, Delirium, Feed, The War of the Worlds and Lord of the Flies, and having touched eyes on this monster, I can see exactly why Dr Frankenstein freaked out after first beholding his own wonky attempt at creation.
There are so many tropes and cliches jammed into The Forsaken that reading it is almost like watching one of those Guinness World Record attempts to squish as many people into a Volkswagon Beetle as possible. Can we really have Big Brother, mind-feed implants, systemic testing for social deformities, the exiling of children to an island in the middle of nowhere, feral villages on said island, a cult leader, government medical trialling, martial arts, fights to the death, an exiled political leader, a frozen wasteland world, tripod-like flying machines, an abandoned scientific facility, cryogenic freezing and a hidden civilisation in Australia all in one book? Why yes, yes, apparently we can. But as my mum likes to say (usually, admittedly, talking about people wearing ill-fitting clothing rather than about literature), just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
This isn’t a novel. This is 422 pages worth of a brainstorm session.
From its very opening pages, which involve an Orwellian “they came in the night” prologue, right the way through to its predictable cliffhangerish this-is-just-the-beginning ending, the book feels as though about to collapse in on itself at any moment. The world building is hazy and unfocused, even for a so-called “dystopian” YA (and let’s face it, in this genre a “just ’cause” explanation for whatever bizarre social/political machinations are at play usually seems to pass muster). So much so that unless you’re reading this in outer space–and thus in zero gravity–you’ll find it impossible to suspend your disbelief. None of this book makes sense. Not an iota of it. Just why would people submit to living in a world like this? How are they too stupid to know what’s going on? Why is it always a teenager who is the only one who can overthrow an Evil All-Pervasive Government? How is said Evil All-Pervasive Government apparently unaware of all this seditious stuff going on?
And then, my goodness, the sheer gratuitousness of the plot. A girl, who though remembering her parents being taken away in the night by Evil Government, has no idea why on earth she might have been picked as a possible future dissenter and thus shipped off to Lord of the Flies Island where she suddenly becomes a Helen of Troy-esque beauty capable of manipulating boys’ hearts just as easily as she can suddenly manipulate a bow and arrow. Who subsequently finds herself in faux fights to the death, looking in on some bizarre sex cult, in the middle of a love triangle (she prevails, of course, and it’s lurve), trekking across Antarctic-style wastelands and unearthing evil government conspiracies while outing masked cult leaders and avoiding World of the Worlds-style tripods. Some might call this Mary Sueism to the extreme, but who on earth would really attempt to insert themselves in this sort of kitchen sink construction?
All of the ridiculousness might be palatable if only it were interesting, but it’s not. This book drags like one of the aforementioned tripods might if it had lost a tentacle and was forced to stumble along bipedally. The writing is flat, insipid, and ugly. And then, the final insult, after 422 pages of this muddled mess: it’s the first in a trilogy. Like this series, I could go on, but instead I’ll spare you.
Rating: (serious flaws)
With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy
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