Book Review – Untold
I feel the need to defend some of my reading material. Why? Because of my very judgemental brother of course. Not only does he hate everything – he can always defend his point of view by pointing out the obvious (and less obvious) flaws in the book/movie/game/etc. So, even when I come out of a movie thinking geez that was fun, a few minutes discussion with Kevin will leaving me disappointed in the film.
Since he doesn’t read much, books in theory should be safe from his hypercritical views. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. First I struggle to relate the plot of my stories in any manner that doesn’t sound utterly ridiculous. Further, the self-proclaimed God of Taste will on occasion read the book summary online. And that I suppose is really where this post began. With a movie poster for Divergent and a curiosity to know what the story was about.
According to some online summary, Divergent is supposed to be a dystopian future similar to the Hunger Games. Only none of the described problems seem like reasonable problems. How is a government that is characterised as being selfless considered evil? How can people really expect to divide the population into five classes based on personality and not think there will be individuals that do not fit in their system? More importantly what does it matter which personality you have? There is not indication of how these classes integrate into society. It seems silly as many young adult novels do. While I am curious to see if the book is as bad as the summary suggests, I am not quite willing to sacrifice the day required to read it.
On the other hand I did read and enjoyed a different young adult novel, Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan. Untold is the sequel to Unspoken (which I think I have mentioned before). The summary: well, in brief it is about a town of wizards divided between the evil side that want to kill people for power and the good side that don’t want to kill anyone. It is set in modern England. So, in some ways I suppose you could compare it to Harry Potter which also explored good and evil and magic in modern times. Certainly both had secret wizards capable of fantastical feats but hidden from the rest of society.
One of the biggest questions raised with Harry Potter was: If magic is so powerful and capable of doing all sorts of things why do wizards have to hide from the rest of society? I don’t think it was ever fully rationalized. I could apply the same question to Untold. The only answer I can find is that Wizards are not capable of just anything with their power and that for most of them their power is confined to the small English town through tradition and design. Certainly everyone (or nearly so) in the town is aware of the concept of wizards, it is accepted but not much discussed (on account of death being connected to power). The wizards themselves have a strong connection to the town (it was built expressly for them hundreds of years earlier) and desire to continue ruling it. But still I ask, why there? Why can they not do magic elsewhere? And if they can, why do they not rule the world?
While the main characters are still in school, it is not the driving force behind the books. Untold does not have a Hogwarts, it has an entire village – kept isolated by magic and wizards. Very few people seem to move into the town and few seem to leave. This seems reasonable for small towns and certainly builds that insular world of Sorry-in-the- Vale.
Ok, I can see where the story sounds a bit silly and I really cannot explain it away. The characters however, are really what have sold me on the series. They are teenagers – a point against them, but in some ways they are not real teenagers. First their banter is far more interesting to listen to. Second, although they can be very moody, several are spunky, straight-forward and optimistic. It gives the cast a good balance as there is always someone there to call out the particularly emotional ones and give them a good kick in the pants.
I like the connections between people. Families are not perfect in this story, even the one example of a seemingly perfect family has to deal with real issues of trust and potential divorce. There is a range of families and different relationships expressed in the book. Some parents are absent. Some parents don’t care for their offspring, other parents seem to care more for their nephew than their own son. The main character is not your typical orphan. She is deeply connected to her family and struggles when they show how human even her parents are. Even in the conservative English village there is a hint of diversity with the main character and her Japanese ancestry; with characters exploring their sexuality. All of these conflicts are well done and I think they remind the reader that not everyone is the same and you cannot judge people just by their appearances.
So, what is the point of this lengthy (for me), incoherent ramble? Well first and most importantly: Untold, the second book in the Lynburn Legacy, is a good read. I liked it. I would recommend it, particularly to those enjoying young adult. And even better, it doesn’t have vampires, werewolves or zombies. Second, it is probably a blessing that my brother doesn’t read much. It keeps him from tainting everything I like.