Welcome to the very first edition of Weekly Reads!
In these posts, I’m going to provide some quick thoughts on the books I’ve read for the week. These posts will have slight, gentle spoilers: I want to give you a sense of the books, but not interfere with your experience much more than if you’d skimmed the first chapter or read the back cover.
Last week, I read the first trilogy of novels in The Selection series (The Selection, The Elite, and The One), and I’ll be reviewing them as a whole. Because if I’d just read the first book and stopped, I might’ve felt okay about this series. But I read the first three. Don’t do as I did.
Plot: Basically, this is The Bachelor if it were the way that princes in a dystopian future chose their wives-to-be. We also have oppression in the form of castes, two sets of rebels, a love triangle centered around the plucky heroine (America), and an asshole king. All of this is derivative/on trend with current YA and the ending predictable, but in the first book, the mystery of how it would all work out seemed promising. (I don’t care about endings if I feel like the journey might be neat: I’m that freak who reads the last pages of books before I start.)
If you happen to read the first book of this series accidentally or anyway, stop there and make up the rest. Trust me. Every plot thread meanders off to provide absolutely nothing. The love triangle is dragged out far past its time and given a magical endgame resolution. The rebel attacks seem like a point of interest until they repeat over and over in the same way and the motives of both factions are revealed to be bland. Secrets and misunderstandings are leaned on as sources of conflict until you can hardly imagine the characters speak to or like each other, and the competition ends in mostly unearned friendships. Speaking of which…
Characters: I often don’t care if a plot is a mess if the characters are lovable, so let’s get to that. Our plucky heroine (America) does a few unexpected Mockingjay-esque things that inspire rebels and the lower castes alike, but more or less, character development is at a minimum and characters are only painted in broad strokes (and mostly through telling rather than showing) or not at all, and they change or don’t on a whim. In the first book, not knowing all 35 girls in a competition makes sense: it’s a huge ensemble. But as the books go on and personalities barely (if at all) emerge, the lack here chafes. Hell, America talks to her maids every day and I still have no idea what differentiates Mary from the other two other than a lack of distinction. (Sorry, Mary. I’m sure you were the best at drawing baths.)
Setting: It’s a caste-based future dystopia in the former US post-Fourth World War. This has become a pretty generic idea in young adult and very little is new here. (Are your people sorted by number, colour, or adjective, and what do their uniforms look like?)
In the end, if I had to star-rate these books, each one would produce diminishing returns, because the closer you get to the end of this trilogy, the more obvious it is that each conflict will have an unsatisfying resolution. (I should probably come up with a rating system. One day, I will.) It also becomes increasingly more obvious that the actions of the main characters barely have consequences, if at all, which really takes away all stakes.
Basically: I’m okay that I spent this time reading, because full disclosure, this premise is kind of neat for writing your very own fanfiction AU. (I mean, so is The Bachelor in general, but who doesn’t like a royalty/arranged marriage fanfiction AU? This is a great mash-up.) Other than that, though, I recommend all people give this one a hard pass.
Enjoy your life while you can: reread The Hunger Games instead.