I am exhausted from being yo-yoed around by this book. Up and down and back around. I was prepared for disappointment after Prodigy and the way the series seemed to be heading, but even so I was still disappointed even over that prior disappointment. The ending to this series has cemented my resolve not to start YA series without 1) High recommendations from people I trust, and 2) Having a pretty good idea that the series isn’t going to careen off a cliff at the last minute.
I’m not even sure where to start with this review. (Spoilers for the first two books in the series from here on out.)
So June and Day have been separated for eight months. She’s been busy training to run the country, he’s been secretly being treated for a debilitating brain infection that no one seems to know how to cure while acting as the face of the new government, getting the people to rally behind the new Elector (Day was previously the country’s most infamous and beloved outlaw). Meanwhile, peace talks between the Republic and the Colonies (together, they were formerly the USA) have stalled because the Colonies think the Republic has used biological warfare on them. A new version of the plague created in the last two books has popped up, and the Elector (Anden, also in love with June) has asked June to get her old flame back to Denver so they can experiment on his brother (who he thinks was Patient Zero), so they can find a cure and prevent the Colonies from attacking. Meanwhile, June is just sort of floating through life, and Day is still dying, but agrees to reluctantly come back to help (but NO EXPERIMENTING OKAY?!!).
So then all this other crap starts happening. Day and June immediately fall back in lust with each other even though Day is SO CONFLICTED because OMG June is the reason his family is dead, even though she really isn’t? And Day’s little brother wants to help but as noted before, NO EXPERIMENTS EVEN THOUGH IT WILL LITERALLY SAVE EVERYONE FROM HORRIBLE DEATHS. And then the Colonies attack and they’ve allied with Africa, so everyone’s fucked! And Anden and June have to go bargain with Antarctica for aid. And sure, Antarctica is a country now with cities and people and everything (more on this later). But Denver falls! And people die! And then the bad guy(s) from book one escape their executions! And then more stuff!
Here’s the thing, maybe all that summary up there doesn’t sound that bad to you, but you may have detected a tone in the way that I summarized it that indicates my annoyance and displeasure at the way those events were portrayed in the book. For the large majority of the time I was reading, I was mostly annoyed and sarcastically thinking the word ‘seriously??’ over and over with eye-rolling. Then of course something would happen that was cool, or that made me sit up and go ‘Yeah! Now it’s getting good!’ But then immediately afterword it would very quickly not be good again. It was extremely frustrating. Hence: yo-yo.
So what was annoying? A lot. To start with, Lu’s worldbuilding is unbelievable, and not ‘unbelievable’ like HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME, ‘unbelievable’ like HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO DUMB. She focused too much on the war and politics of her story without credibly being able to write characters who can maneuver in those situations. 90% of the time they sounded like teenagers playing at war and politics, even the adults. I have more: Champion had a completely different tone than book one, Legend, which was a super fun read. That fun tone is what I liked so much about it in the first place. Both Prodigy (#2) and Champion took themselves too seriously. I think approximately five million of my status updates on Goodreads involved me moaning in agony something along the lines of, BRING BACK THE FUN. I stated back in my very first review of this series that the only thing that saved Legend from it’s cliched and predictable storyline was the tone. Without that tone, it was just cliched, predictable world and story both, no longer set off from other YAs by how much fun it was having. It is now indistinguishable from every other YA ‘dystopian’ clone on the market.
MORE! The DAMN LOVE QUADRANGLE. Yes, I realize teenagers are horny. That doesn’t mean there has to be love triangles in every fucking YA series, let along love QUADRANGLES. Seriously. June loves Day, Day loves June, Anden also loves June, June thinks she likes Anden also and kisses him sometimes, Tess loves Day, Day only loves Tess like a little sister. IT IS EXHAUSTING AND NOT INTERESTING AT ALL. Lu shows a cursory understanding of how governmental relations and diplomacy work. She has a complete inability to make her audience forget she has teenagers running the country. When Day freaks out about not letting them run the tests on his brother, he comes off like an idiot because Lu didn’t bother to explain the full ramifications of what kind of tests we were talking about here. I’m sitting over there going DAY YOU IDIOT just let them test his blood! You’re being sooooo stupid! It’s only near the end of the book that we learn the extent of the tests, and that they are painful (i.e. bone marrow extraction) — but even then it’s still completely vague. Details, guys. DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT. Not having them makes your protagonist seem paranoid and stupid. The reappearance of Commander Jameson was the worst. She is, at best, a cardboard cutout villian, and I hate her. Lu writes about her like we’re supposed to be afraid of her, but I’m just like ugh, go away you stupid woman who I don’t care about at all.
Probably the most perplexing thing in the book is the previously mentioned and utterly random Antarctica worldbuilding that served no purpose AT ALL towards the narrative. When June and Anden visit Antarctica, we’re treated to a vision of a country at peace and without censorship, so I get that part of it, but then Lu starts going to town on it and there’s this weirdly detailed description of this 3-D points system all Antarctican citizens participate in. And it is so . . . odd? Not that it’s not a cool idea, because it is, and I’d kind of pay money to read that series instead of this one, but what the hell was it doing in this book? Details are good. Her detail on this was extraordinary: how each citizen has chips in their brain so they can see the 3-D advertising and points projected above people and items and buildings, how the goal of each citizen is to earn points and ‘level up’ in society, earning higher paying jobs and esteem. Frankly, it deserves its own book, but it absolutely did not belong in this one. We needed those details elsewhere for the actual story she was trying to tell. Just: mind-boggling.
The not bad: her prose was serviceable, not particularly full of imagery, just simple. Her sense of character interaction is nice, and that’s what she should have focused on instead of all that other stuff that she didn’t know how to write about. The way Day’s disease affected him was the most interesting part of the book, and I think the most well thought out (although it was undercut by the ending, but more on that in a sec). She’s pretty good at action scenes as well. But, again, I’d get all excited during those, and then immediately become disappointed by the rest of it.
And then: The Ending. Oh boy, you guys. Just. What? Is? This? And, um. What was she thinking? I thought I was reading a post-apocalyptic story about war and governmental control and class/race lines and maybe a love story with some other stuff thrown in also (this clusterfucking of focus might be another part of the problem in hindsight), but apparently none of those themes were important enough to close on. Instead, we have June (atheistic, unreligious June) (highlight for spoiler) suddenly begging with God to save Day after Commander Jameson shoots him, and bargaining to give up anything if Day can be saved. This scene by itself wouldn’t have been that perplexing, even if June had literally never thought about God before in the series, but couple with what comes after, it’s so confusing, like Lu didn’t know how to end it. Or rather, she wrote to the ending, even if it betrayed the entire rest of her story. I guess she just really wanted June to realize Day CONVENIENTLY had no memory of the last two years (and her) and decided it was a sign from God that she would no longer be in his life, that HE would be the thing she gave up. And this was why she had Day freaking out early in the book, which also made little sense. He literally goes from having sex with June and being deliriously happy, to crying like an asshole in his old house and blaming June for it and June feeling agonies over her presence causing him pain. WHAT. YOU WERE FUCKING AND SWOONING LITERALLY FIVE MINUTES AGO. And then they go away for ten years and June dates Anden (of course) and then one day they randomly meet on the street and Day feels his memories coming back so YAY HAPPY ENDING AFTER ALL. Like that was just such a perfectly achy and romantically tragical thing to happen BARF. Shoot me in the face and come back when you have something better, please.
Bottom line: If you’re going to read this series, stop with book one.