Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Prodigy review

I heard about LEGEND, Lu's first book in this series, through Twitter, and I checked for it in my library.  It was checked out.  To me, that's a good sign.  That means that someone wanted to read it.  And my library is not always a hotbed of zealous readers.

I checked again in a few weeks, and it was still out.  It took me quite a while to get my hands on a copy of LEGEND, and I was pretty excited about finally getting a chance to read it.  The original didn't disappoint.  Lu's first book focused on two intriguing characters, Day and June, as they moved through a dark, complicated, and interesting world. I enjoyed it a lot, and I recently convinced the other teachers at my school to add LEGEND to our summer reading list.  (I hope our kids like it as much as I did!)

Enter PRODIGY.  I borrowed it from a co-worker and plowed through it in four days, despite a busy schedule.  I was concerned about the typical "sophomore slump" that we sometimes see in a series like this.  For example, I was not entirely pleased with CATCHING FIRE, the follow-up to HUNGER GAMES.  I wholeheartedly enjoyed CHAMBER OF SECRETS, the second Harry Potter book, but I struggled with the second movie.  It often seems like the second book in a series like this tries too hard to reproduce the successful elements of the first, instead of trying to tell its own story.

In PRODIGY, June and Day have escaped LA together and are limping into Las Vegas, now a major military outpost.  They meet up with the Patriots leader, Razor, and quickly decide to join the Patriots (since they have no other choice and Day is desperately in need of medical attention).  June is sent on  a mission to infiltrate the Elector's inner circle and help bring about his assassination, and Day will be sent to pull the trigger.  Things start to get complicated from there, and there are enough turns and twists to make this plot interesting without getting ridiculous.

There are a lot of things that I like about this book that have to do with the plot near the end.  I don't want to spoil anything, but I have to say that I enjoyed the airplane ride near the end, and I enjoyed some of the late twists.  I also think that the bulk of the surprises were well-planned and convincing.  The right kind of surprise, in my mind, is one that sneaks up on you, but doesn't come out of nowhere.  Where the ground has been prepared with prior details.  (Speaking of Harry Potter, the most obnoxious example of this kind of BAD surprise comes at the end of the GOBLET OF FIRE, where Harry faces Voldemort in a duel and survives because of priori incantatem, a completely new and bizarre product of having two wands face each other that have the same kind of core.  Such a frustratingly fake and convenient solution to the problem of saving Harry.)  All of the surprises in this book were well-planned and convincing.

I also have to say that I liked that the book finished in under 400 pages.  That's getting more and more rare in fantasy/sci fi.  (DIVERGENT is 576, GONE is 592, I AM NUMBER FOUR is 448, CITY OF BONES is 512, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is 592, and so on.)  Readers of these genres like dense, complex stories full of description, twists and turns, and that sort of thing, but I think we also like to be able to finish a book in a reasonable amount of time, so that we don't forget the beginning or have to return the book to the library.  (Those of us who still do paper, physical books also don't like lugging 800-page tomes around en masse.)

PRODIGY isn't perfect.  I felt like the last chapter was a little hollow and melodramatic, a little too much.  I like that it's shorter than many books of its type, but there are some places where more would be better.  June's mission with the Elector seems to go quickly, and could have perhaps been drawn out more.  That section of the book doesn't seem to be too detailed at all, really, including Day's work with the Patriots without June.

But it's pretty close to an ideal sci-fi YA read.  I think it's easily as good as DIVERGENT and INSURGENT, and Lu has a good feel for balancing action and suspense.  Her characters are cool, with video-game-ish abilities, without feeling ridiculous or implausible.  And the conflict is so palpable that it makes the whole book engaging and feverish.  (My pet theory on this is the importance of a really evil antagonist.  A powerful, evil bad guy really makes a novel.  If the bad guy isn't scary, it's hard to convey a sense of conflict in a novel like this.)

So, if you haven't already, check out PRODIGY.  And LEGEND.  And watch for the third book - it will probably be worth reading, too.

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