This is a great choice for fans of dystopian sci-fi novels who are looking for a unique concept.
To read a comprehensive review of the novel, take a look here.
You can get the novel from Amazon at this link.
The List by Patricia Forde (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)
Review copy provided by Netgalley.
Genres: Dystopian, Sci-fi, Drama, Futuristic
In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.
On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.
The idea behind The List is an extremely compelling concept. Language is severely restricted in order to be functional without allowing for freedom of thought or belief. Devised by John Noa, it is an attempt to remove the ability for movements to form, for ideas to be created, and for beliefs to be born. Noa believes that The Melting, a planet-wide disaster, could have been prevented if not for language. Politicians who denied global warming used words to persuade and distract citizens from dealing with the problem.
It is a very relatable idea- just look at the 2016 presidential elections. This Wordwatchers blog tracked the use of language in the last presidential debate and explains how words can be used to sway and manipulate an audience. Trump did it so effectively that he is soon to become the most powerful man in the world.Against the backdrop of our own global climate, both politically and environmentally, The List is very fitting for our times. It’s exploration of both the importance and the danger of language is exceptional.
Aside from the obvious links between the concept in the novel and the real world, the use of List made me aware of my more personal beliefs about language. In the novel, when characters speak in List, I noticed that I would assume those characters had lower intelligence. This happened regardless of the concepts they were discussing or the ideas they were trying to communicate.
Of course, there are arguments that language does impact intelligence. Abstract concepts cannot easily be conceived of without a language to describe them. Nevertheless, we are still capable of having, understanding and applying knowledge without using words.
The List has many specific and more general opportunities for self-reflection on the part of the reader.There are many moments where the protagonist, Letta, is playing double-agent. Each time Letta must make a decision within these moments, I feel as a reader that I can’t help but think about how I would behave. Novels which encourage introspection are, in my opinion, quite important. You can learn a lot about yourself when reading a book.
Unfortunately, despite the unique concept of the novel, I feel Fordge promises something she doesn’t quite deliver on. The plot itself is not, perhaps, as intricate as it could have been. For instance, there are brief mentions of the ‘Wordless’, people who have lost the ability to speak entirely. These people are discussed with fear and confusion, and I was hoping for a moment when they would prove themselves worthy of more. Unfortunately, this moment never came.
Futuristic dystopian novels are becoming very popular. I believe for an author to be truly successful, they need to step away from the obvious story – a restrictive society which is disrupted due to a desire for more freedom. There was a pleasing reveal about two-thirds of the way through the novel regarding Letta’s family, but aside from that there were very few surprises.
As well as the somewhat unimaginative storyline, I struggled a little with Letta as our main character. For starters, I found I wasn’t able to easily decide on her age. We are told she is under eighteen, but to me that didn’t help much in really understanding her. There is a big difference between 13 and 17 years of age. This difficulty in placing her age made it tricky to completely relate to her.
Throughout the novel there are hints of her affections for another character, but these are not fully explored. Are these feelings the earliest flutterings of attraction within a young teenage girl, or more fully-fledged emotions emanating from a young woman? Rarely mentioned, and not at all acted upon, I think this plot device was thrown in for the sake of it. There is little to no chemistry between the two characters, and they don’t even speak to each other particularly frequently.
On top of this non-romance, I was also disappointed in the relative rarity of moments which encouraged me to feel for the characters. I believe Forde did attempt to show the strength of connections between her cast, but for whatever reason I found it difficult to empathise with them when characters were in danger. As a result, I was interested in what happened to the characters, but I didn’t really care what happened.
I would recommend The List for fans of the dystopian novel who want something new, but don’t expect to be wowed. An intriguing concept which could have been more fully explored.
The List (alternative title: The Wordsmith) is released on 8th August 2017.
Ida by Alison Evans (Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo Publishing)
Genres: Teens and Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Ida is a high school graduate struggling to find meaning in her life. She has a great family and a fantastic relationship, but as far as a career goes, she stuck in a dead-end cafe job with no way out. But she’s still a teenager – does it really matter if she hasn’t decided which high-flying career she wants?
Her lack of inspiration, combined with an unusual ability to turn back time and undo her mistakes, leaves Ida feeling adrift, unable to stick to one path.
A chance encounter with a familiar face makes Ida wonder if she has as much control over her life as she thinks. What if her decisions aren’t actually hers at all?
The Review – SPOILER FREE!
I started this book knowing nothing except the title. By about page 20 I knew I wanted to read it to the very end.
Ida is a truly unique story, and it is very hard to say that in this day and age. It is a beautiful exploration of what it is like to be a teenager today, in a modern world filled with expectations, enforced opinions and stereotypical views. Just thinking about it is stifling. It wasn’t so long ago that I was in a very similar position to Ida. I’d completed my degree, I was working at a cafe, no one would hire me and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Sadly, that’s where the similarities end. Very early on in the book we discover that Ida has the ability to go back in time and not only re-live experiences, but change them. Before discovering this power, I was worrying the book would be a little predictable for my tastes (bear in mind I was on page 4 at this point!). I was soon proved wrong as Ida avoided a near-fatal car crash by going back in time and changing her route home.I definitely didn’t see it coming (no pun intended).
Being able to fix our mistakes is perhaps one of the most coveted fantasies out there. I know I’d make excellent use of it. I’m a bit of a sucker for books which explore these sorts of desires, and Ida is no different. How wonderful would it be to erase every mistake you’ve ever made? You remember them so you can still learn from them, as the old adage says, you just don’t have to inflict your own idiocy or self-importance on others.
It took a while for Ida to realise she had this ability, but once she knew what she could do she didn’t hold back – and why would you? Even simple problems could be swept under the rug – you could clean up the broken china from the mug you dropped, but why bother when you can just close your eyes and make it go away?
As with all good things, however, Ida’s ability has a dark side. She begins to encounter individuals who seem to wish her harm, but by escaping them she digs herself into even darker situations, and ultimately comes to understand that her ability is not at all what she thought it was. These experiences culminate in some excruciating choices for Ida. In situations like this, as a reader, you can’t help but make your own decisions about what you would do in her situation. Evans has managed to write a compelling novel which encourages reflection both of how you live your life but also how your choices impact on everybody around you. Even the smallest decision can make a huge impact later in life -the butterfly effect.
As well as challenging my ideas about myself, Ida also challenged my expectations of people in general. Ida is in a relationship with Daisy, who is genderqueer (i.e. a person who doesn’t conform to the idea of gender as binary). I thought that I’d have absolutely no issue with a character like Daisy, but I am not afraid to admit that initially I found her presence a bit jarring.
Why? Daisy uses the pronoun ‘they’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’. This is not something I’ve come across before, and seeing it written down on paper felt, strangely, a little dehumanising to me. I was reminded of a bad habit I used to have of talking about someone to another person, with the first person in the room and without my referring to them by name.”I’m right here you know!”
Thinking about it logically, there is absolutely no reason that referring to someone as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ should make me feel like this, and I’m glad to report that it only took a couple of chapters for me to get used to it. I guess it’s a reflection of our society – although being genderqueer is becoming more and more accepted, it might be a long time before we’re completely used to it. It’s a real shame, but the more books published like Ida, the quicker that understanding will come. Daisy doesn’t feature in the book as much as I’d like. They seem to be a great grounding presence for Ida, and Evans really manages to convey Ida’s sense of loss when, for reasons I won’t go into, Daisy isn’t always available.
There is a relatively small cast of characters but they are all extremely well developed. It may seem like small praise, but it’s amazing how many two-dimensional people we read about in novels. In Ida, Evans has been able to create a group of individuals who each clearly have their own thoughts, desires and motivations. I’d perhaps have liked to see a little more of Ida’s father – he was often on the sidelines of Ida’s live, though this may be a reflection of any relationship between a teenage girl and her dad. Always there, but not always noticed.
There are two more characters in the novel who I found very intriguing, Damaris and Adrastos. I won’t go into any detail, but their presence definitely indicates that there is more to the world of Ida than Evans reveals in this novel.
I don’t know whether the book will be standalone or become part of a larger series, but I sure it’s the latter.
A review copy of this book was sent to myself via Netgalley – the novel is released to the public on 30th January 2017.
I hope you put it on your reading wishlist, and please let me know what you think when you read it!
Scientists at LIGO may have detected gravitational waves, one of the cornerstones of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.