(I got this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. My copy being an ARC, some things in it may be different than they are in the published book.)
I’m not sure what to make of Paradigm. On the one hand, while its cover is terribly reminiscent of Divergent, and while it also deals with a dystopian world, it does so in a different way than what is usually seen in similar novels: the reader is actually given to see both the dystopian society and its origins, through the eyes of Carter (“present” time) and Alice (“past” time). On the other hand, I did find the story confusing in several places, and its good ideas not exploited enough.
What I liked:
* Two timelines with their own characters. I’m fond of books that make use of different timelines, because I always hope this will give me a deeper insight on what’s happening to whom, and where and when it’s happening. It opens up a lot of possibilities, and the one here—seeing what led to the “present time” dystopian state led by the Industry—is definitely interesting. The thought process involved is somewhat logical enough: “the old world failed us and we failed it, so if we are to survive, we must destroy what’s left and reinvent something new, not try to recreate our old lives.”
* Alice’s bleak background, and how she decided to shape a life for herself. She lost her father when she was still quite young, her mother had to sleep with men to earn money (it’s heavily implied that the forbidden room was where she would welcome customers at times, or at least, that’s how I understood it), her daily life and surroundings were far from brilliant. When the Storms hit, when she was brought underground with other survivors, she decided that she was given a chance to start all over, on equal footing with people who, before the catastrophe, had more money, weren’t bullied at school, had better prospects than her… She didn’t dwell on the misery, on the lost world, and when she did, she realised she had to come to terms with it, because it would never come back, and moping wouldn’t change anything, except set her back. The way she grew up after that, the way her mind shaped itself, was fascinating both for its positive take and for its wickedness, as contradictory as it may seem: she started from a “now I have the same chances as everyone else” approach to go through a process that would make her a perfect candidate for establishing a dystopian society.
* The setting. No USA this time, but London. I love London. I’m totally biased about London. And the Black River definitely lives up to its name. (Every person who’s been to/living in London must know by now that the Thames isn’t fit for diving, even now. ;))
* No romance, or so little (a couple of kisses, a few memories) that it didn’t really matter. Don’t misunderstand me, I can appreciate romance, but YA novels, whether dealing with dystopia or not, so often end up with stories boged down by love triangles and lovey-dovey scenes that it quickly gets old. Love wasn’t the focus here, it never was, there were so many other things to tackle first, and that’s exactly what the author did.
What I didn’t like:
* The world building started off on an intriguing footing, but some things didn’t make much sense. I would’ve liked the Storms phenomenon and its origins to be better explained—more than “we ruined our planet with pollution and now it’s too late.” Was it the same in every country? Can it only be the same everywhere? Where are the other countries, anyway (because it seems London is the only place left in the world here)? How come the Storms happened so fast? What about the government’s actions, the Army’s, the Navy’s, the police’s (it looks as if they didn’t do anything, and just died like everyone else)? Also, hurricanes by definition can’t hit Northern Europe; windstorms, sure, but not technically hurricanes. Another thing that bothered me: why were the Scouts affected by the water when they were equipped with hazmat/anti-radiation suits? From what I know, those are supposed to block particles, and I doubt whatever was in the water was tinier than alpha and beta particles—and there was heavy radiation around, since exposure was shown to lead quickly to radiation poisoning, with hair falling in clumps, bleeding, etc. If the water could affect them, then shouldn’t they have died of such poisoning pretty fast, too? (Which still happens too fast, by the way. Radiation sickness develops in 24-48 hours, not a few minutes only.)
Although it’s something younger readers might not pay attention to, you can never tell what they know exactly, and I think those things will clearly lead to questioning.
* Carter’s arc went too fast in places, and I found his character inconsistent. He started like the perfect brainwashed candidate for Mr. Dystopian World Of The Year, having worked all his (short) life to become Controller General, which is totally all right with me in such a setting… but then, he seemed to be affected too quickly by what he discovered, to be swayed and changed too drastically. His development may have been more believable to me if he had had more contact with Ariel and Lucia, with Isabella, with Iseult, and hadn’t been influenced so easily.
* Speaking of which, the characters in general didn’t feel very developed. I think the problem might’ve stemmed from the use of two timelines, demanding that the focus be on many things. As a result, we’d probably have needed a longer novel, in order for most of those people to be given their chance at development.
* A lasting feeling of confusion. It somehow worked in the beginning, in that it reflected Carter’s own confusion upon waking up, but after a while, I wasn’t sure anymore why the story jumped to this or that scene, and I always wondered if I had missed a chapter in between.
* The whole process of waking up people 15-20 later for them to contribute to society wasn’t too clear in its origin and goals. In a way, I can understand the desire to keep people with specific skills in cryo-sleep if they’re not absolutely needed in the now, in order to wake them up at a time when their skills are more in demand. However, why wake up a few kids and make them compete for Controller General position when they haven’t even had time to get adjusted to a world 15 years older than the one they knew? The Industry knew things had been changing, they wanted someone to right them, and I can’t decide if this made sense (keep the kids in the dark so that they compete the way they would have 15 years ago, and “bring back” ways considered as more appropriate) or not (having more data in hand could help contenders to grasp the situation and adapt their actions in order to make society the way they had known it).
* The writing style: overall an easy read, but sometimes I found sentences that didn’t make much sense, clauses with missing words, or descriptions that were way too vague (“There was something about him, thought Alice, that reminded her of something, but she couldn’t quite place it.”) As said, though, this was an ARC, so those problems might have been edited out of the final version.
I’m rating this book 1.5 stars because I really appreciated it not giving in to the pressure of “YA must have romance” and for dealing with the making of a dystopian world, not only its current existence. But it still left me frustrated on way too many accounts.