Renegade (The Elysium Chronicles, #1) by J.A. Souders
Author: J.A. Souders
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
Publisher: Tor Teen
Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Source: Arc provided for review from publisher via NetGalley
Book Description from Goodreads:
Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.
But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie.
Her memories have been altered.
Her mind and body aren’t under her own control.
And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.
Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb... and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.
Renegade manages to blend old world aristocratic charm with the spectacular technological wonders that are the bones and heart of Elysium; a bubble in the deep blue sea, like the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Separated from the violent and unruly surface, the people of Elysium live a charmed and orderly life with designations for their jobs, who they have kids with and where they live. In the gardens of this paradise we meet Evelyn - the chosen Daughter of the People, where she explains that her life is "Just about perfect." But pobody's nerfect...
The cover speaks a lot about the story itself and it's not until you read it that you realize the significance of the hair and the roses, or the drops of blood and the mix of technology and scenery blended into the cover. But to me it feels like the head to body proportion is off a bit. Almost as if the neck is too short and the hair makes everything look too heavy. It just throws me off a bit.
We first meet Evelyn in her prized rose garden elaborating about Elysium and how everything works. It was hard to get into her narrative voice at first because it felt so stiff and rehearsed, but it wasn't until her days literally - and even the words that were coming out of her mouth started repeating themselves that I was intrigued. Being trained to lead the people of Elysium after Mother, Evelyn has to be absolutely perfect - right down to the genetics that give her the blond hair and blue eyes (sounding eerily familiar yet?) that Mother prizes. But when she steps out of line Mother has her dealt with....crafting a carefully scripted daughter every time. Under the superficial title as Daughter of the People, Evelyn is naturally curious and does what's right...even when it goes against everything she's been taught.
Gavin, the gruff survivalist surface dweller that stumbles into their little slice of heaven is in for a rude awakening as he's hunted down ruthlessly. But upon meeting Evelyn he sees a glimmer of hope for getting out of this incredibly tough situation. I don't really have strong feelings about Gavin. He's the usual head strong, run in without forethought kind of guy that wants the girl and to live happily ever after. He has really sweet moments though, especially at the end.
Their relationship is an unconventional one. At first Evelyn wants to save him out of pure curiosity - she's never met a surface dweller before and this might be her only chance. What starts out as a thirst for knowledge slowly starts to grow into something more as she gets to know Gavin and soon Evelyn's own loyalties are tested as Mother gets suspicious of her interest in the surface dweller. Their relationship takes on hilarious twist, but after Evelyn starts seeing the cracks in the illusion of her perfect world she throws all her chips in with Gavin in hopes of escaping Mother's clutches. However, every step closer to the surface reveals a secret about Mother and Evelyn's own past...
I loved watching Evelyn break past the brain washing, her voice and tone noticeably changes from formal to more emotional and passionate so that when brain washing moments do happen there's a distinct demarcation in her attitude.
For most of the book the story felt almost like a role playing video game. There is a droning monotony especially when the characters ran from one end of the dome to the other, back and forth completing little quests along the way while avoiding the authorities in order to get to their grand escape plan. It was a bit predictable unfortunately.
But where the story really picks up and completely gripped me is the the last 1/4 of the book. It takes on a really dark tone as all of the skeleton's in Mother's closet are revealed and Evelyn's character does a complete 180 and becomes a lethal ticking time bomb while there's hordes of crazy zombie-esque creatures between them and freedom. Here Souders builds an air of desperation, intense action and where I could finally jump on the Evelyn and Gavin train to cheer for their success!
Overall: 3/5 Drinkable Cups of Tea
It's a really interesting concept when it's all revealed. But it's the stuttering, repetition and awkwardness of the first half of the story that was a bit hard to get through. The whole situation at the end though was spectacular and I'm really curious as to where Souders might take the rest of the series.