Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Lisa Stasse’s The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YA

The Forsaken by Lisa M Stasse Lisa Stasses The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YA

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: star Lisa Stasses The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YAhalfstar Lisa Stasses The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YAblankstar Lisa Stasses The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YAblankstar Lisa Stasses The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YAblankstar Lisa Stasses The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YA (serious flaws)

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing The Forsaken from one of the affiliate links below:

Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA | Booktopia

Other books by Lisa Stasse:

Uprising Lisa M Stasse Lisa Stasses The Forsaken and my frustrations with dystopian YA

20 comments

  1. Ouch! That’s harsh! ;) I actually had had enough of Hunger Games by the end of Catching Fire, so I only went on to try Divergent, out of all the Hunger Games readalikes that came out after. Thanks for this honest review!

    • Stephanie /

      Eep! I do feel like a meanie writing such a negative review, but I’m so tired of all of these trend-chasers. I’ve heard good things about Divergent, though. :)

      I only read the first Hunger Games book: I thought it stood well on its own and had a feeling that reading on would tie up too many loose ends for me (I like being able to imagine my own endings rather than having it all spelled out for me.

      • Yes, I remember thinking at the time that it was too bad the story couldn’t have ended there (at the end of Hunger Games) but a successful franchise had already been born!

  2. You know what? I too am really sick of shakey and/or completely nonsensical dystopian YA world building. Divergent, for example, annoyed me a bit but then the second book really drove home the headdeskingly nonsensical world. And I recently read Darkest Minds which WTF? NO LOGIC WHATSOEVER.

    Also, trilogies strung out from perfectly good standalone books. The Hunger Games could have been worse, but some like Dance of Shadows (not quite out yet and also, not dystopian, so that’s something, despite the utterly tacked-on ending) cause me to scream “why, oh publishing gods, why do you force the story to not end?”

    Ahem.

    Thank-you for directing me to a book to avoid.

    • Stephanie /

      I haven’t read Divergent, but Lauren Oliver’s much-touted Delirium was pretty bad, in my opinion (although I seem to be the only one who thinks so). I’m so over this random government mind control stuff, or this bizarre outlawing of thought/emotion/love/individual agency. It makes utterly no sense to me. And why wouldn’t countries from other places around the world step in? Seriously!

      I get that turning something into a trilogy offers agents a better career chance than a bunch of one-offs, and that publishers/agents find it lower risk, but they do need to remember that they’re effectively asking readers to spend $60 on what’s effectively the one idea. I’d much rather spend that on three different ones! Not to mention that if the first book is hard to find, then you’re hardly going to start with books two or three…

  3. Well, in that case I think I can safely conclude that I’m best off skipping this one. Too many books out there to spend my precious reading time with books that are mediocre at best. Thank you for the honest review!

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, Randi! There’s plenty of good dystopian fiction out there, so you won’t be short of material! :)

  4. deanna_b /

    For a unique dystopian novel which incorporates a world wide plague with west coast First Nations culture and the spirit world try “Shadows Cast By Stars” by Catherine Knutsson.

    The majority of the story takes place on the ‘Island’, present day Vancouver Island (Canada). The author actually lives there and her lknowledge of the area and its history is very evident in the novel. I definitely recommend it if you want a YA with an original story. Certainly NOT fan fiction.

  5. Oh, Steph, you’ve hit the nail on the head! It’s not a very nice feeling to write a negative review, but it’s important to be honest. I love that you were specifically critical, rather than just say that the book sucked and leave it at that.

    I am currently reading a rubbish book which is the third one in a series – I’m really only finishing it because I want to know what happens. It’s absolutely driving me crazy. Everyone is keeping secrets for each other, which is causing a lot of confusion. And it would be nice if there was at least one boy and one girl who weren’t related and who were just friends – no flirting. And there were a lot of clues to a big reveal from early on that it drove me crazy that none of the characters picked up, because they were too busy flirting with each other or not talking to each other, to realise there was a spy in their midst. ARGH!

    Anyway, I’m almost finished reading my book, but it was great to take a break to read this post, and see you letting loose a little, Steph. Very fun!

    • Stephanie /

      Oh, the love triangle rubbish and mandatory insta-love romance stuff is driving me nuts. I’d love to see a YA that focuses, say, on a friendship rather than a romance. The problem is that so often the romance ends up being centre stage, and because YA tends to be quite brief in terms of word count, other characters and plotlines have to be culled, making basically everything a romance novel. Gah.

      I definitely feel your pain about the trilogy thing as well. I’ve read a few books recently where I’ve felt that the entire series could be quite neatly put into a single volume.

      Righto. Should stop ranting now!

      • Again, you’re so right, Steph! I’ve advised a number of people to read only The Hunger Games, and not bother with books #2 and #3. And when the movie Inkheart was on television recently, I recommended it to a friend, and told her to steer clear of books #2 and #3 – they are so obviously written at the behest of the film company, and leave a bad taste in the mouth. I bought the second one for it’s beautiful navy blue cover alone, and wish I’d stopped there and not read it. I haven’t even read the third one. The first one was so beautiful and perfectly stood alone, it drives me mad that authors are pushed to write a series because it makes money for the publishers. Grrr.

        • Stephanie /

          I’ve heard a lot of people say that about Inkheart, Jess! There can be a fine line between letting readers spend more time with characters they love and ruining that precious friendship…

  6. Oh Stephanie, this is why I love you. You’re not afraid to say it like it is (in a constructive way, of course) which is something I think a lot of book bloggers fail to do. Not everything we read is going to be stellar or right up our alley, so why shouldn’t we be afraid to say so? As an equal opportunity reader, I appreciate hearing the other side of the coin every now and again.

    I must admit that I was a fan of The Hunger Games, however, I generally enjoy dystopias as a genre anyway. What I don’t like are overplayed scenarios, nonsensical love and cliched characterizations. And seriously, can the love triangle just DIE already!? Alas, I digress. This is the problem I’ve found with YA and popular books though—they spawn sub-par mirror images of themselves from everyone else trying to hop on the bandwagon and make it big. Eventually it gets to a point where you feel like you’re reading the same story packaged in a different cover over and over again. Subtlety is in short supply these days as is quality in character development and coherent plotting. It’s just too much all of the time.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Nikki! Often I don’t review the truly awful stuff as I tend not to stick it out to the end, and I never review books I haven’t finished. But this one so beautifully (awfully?) epitomises so many of the problems I’m seeing as a result of trend-chasing and copycatism.

      I love dystopian fiction when it’s done well (and there’s some brilliant stuff out there), but I’m just so frustrated by this whole hazy Evil Government + Love Triangle + Arbitrary Banning of Random Social Thing formula. All that happens it that the genre gets saturated by mediocre work, then readers get turned off from said genre, and the authors have to move on to some other area entirely. It’s like farming the same plot of land again and again until it’s utterly barren. Why not just rotate your paddocks, people?

      I read a smarty-pants article about how the new trend in YA is MG, because readers are so disillusioned about the state of YA…and I’m not surprised. But as an MG author, well, I’m wondering whether I should grab a pitchfork and defend my territory!

  7. What a great post! I found your review highly amusing. I would not normally bother reading YA dystopia reviews – I love dystopia but there are too many YA novels on it now – but I read this one till the end.

    The book sounds way over the top. I loved The Hunger Games, I’m 40+ but I do read a bit of YA some of the time. Generally I keep to adult dystopia although there is a suspicious amount of new books in that genre too….

    • Stephanie /

      I know exactly what you mean, Judith! I’ve been going back to read some of the older dystopian fiction as a bit of a palate cleanser. I do wonder whether part of this trend is due to the fact that speculative fiction authors can at long last write a (notionally) science fiction novel that will actually be noticed and lauded by critics. Hmm…

  8. For the record, I liked THG, but agree that the the two other books in the trilogy were superfluous. I read them anyway, twice, because I wanted to do permanent damage to my soul I guess. I completely ignored the love triangle because I never believed that Gale was a contender in the least.

    As for DIVERGENT and DELIRIUM, I thought they were both dumb, forced premises in search of a plot. And WITHER? Please. read the whole trilogy though, because I’m a sucker for punishment and also because Lauren DeStefano is the queen of metaphor, so that’s amusing.

    I find it endlessly amusing the way dystopian YA premises are mashed together based on the same basic formula: “In a world where (insert random totalitarian control) (insert random kick ass girl) must (insert random, usually violent act) before she turns (insert age between 13 and 18) and she is (insert random, usually illogical violation)” The end. Except for parts two and three.

    Bleh. I’m over it.

    • Stephanie /

      Great comment! Delirium boggled my mind, and not in a good way. I just couldn’t see how on earth the premise made any sense, and when I got to the end of the second book I almost wept. Why, oh why?

      I think that you should patent your Dystopian Novel formula!

      • I forgot to mention that the “random, usually illogical violation” is also usually sexual in some way, either a metaphor for rape: Wither, XVI, etc. Or a metaphor for forced abortion: Dualed, What’s Left of Me. Why not just come out and have rape and abortion?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers