[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]
I hadn’t read anything by David Estes in quite a while, and when I saw this series on NetGalley, I thought, well, time to address this state of affairs. I shall also confess that nowadays, I do have a bit of a love-hate relationship with YA dystopias in general, for various reasons, and I was glad that this book, while it is a bit predictable and uses expected tropes, avoids what are the usual pitfalls of the genre for me.
The main characters in general were likeable. Benson is a good mix of resourcefulness, emotions and inner strength. Luce is the obvious ‘love interest’, but without falling in his arms, and with a past that makes it possible (while awful for her) to develop this relationship more slowly and believably than what usually happens in YA novels; she’s also resourceful, daring, and doesn’t hesitate to stand by her friends (well, OK, I guess her decision to face danger with Benson who lied to her was kind of stupid, but...). Michael Kelly as well is an interesting man, torn between his job and his mission of killing unauthorised babies and children, and his desire to protect his son. I didn’t care much for Harrison, though, perhaps because of his ‘perfect athlete and student’ record, and I thought that his mid-book decision came a little out of nowhere, considering he wasn’t seen pondering much about it (and his feelings) before. And I’m on the fence about the Destroyer, in his case I believe I -would- have want to see more of him before he became a Hunter, for his evolution into a psychopath to be better pitched against him as a child (in a way, I love to hate him for his appalling personality, but he’s too one-sided as a villain).
The world in which these characters evolve was also better rounded up than usual in dystopian YA novels (where I often get the feeling of a ‘pocket world’, totally isolated from the rest of Earth, which always makes me wonder where are the other countries and why they’re not poking their noses in). The population control method in those new USA is harsh, however the situation that led to it makes sense: climatic change, rising water levels, drowned coasts, less resources left to feed all the people, and it is logical to expect that the rest of the world has met a similar fate, hence if everybody stays in their corner and develop their own policies, it’s not unbelievable. This world is all the more creepy because it’s not such an impossible future, all in all.
Minor pet peeve: I really have a hard time with the name ‘Pop Con’, that just looks so much like ‘pop corn’ to me. XD (But I do see the naming convention roots à la 1984.)
I found the beginning a little slow, possibly because it devoted quite a few chapters to a part of Benson’s life that I felt I didn’t need so many details about—the story becomes more interesting after the boy grows up and we meet his friends. After that were more action scenes, especially once ‘the chase’ gets into motion (that’s no spoiler, of course at some point people would realise who the Slip is!). There was a bit of a plot hole/flimsy explanation, though, regarding the Wire/Jumpers/Lifers connection; it would’ve demanded some more preparation to be more logical, I think.
Conclusion: 3.5, not perfect but definitely enjoyable, especially its second half.