Friday, January 20, 2012

Crossed by Ally Condie

The second book in her Matched Trilogy, Condie takes YA fiction in a post-dystopian society with a strong, young female lead in a unique direction. Rather than concentrate on the action - essentially the fight against societal norms and control - Condie focuses on her characters and what leads them to the choices they make throughout the story.

In league with this focus on choice, Condie introduces a second narrator. While in Matched we only heard from Cassia, Crossed brings in the voice of Ky, her boyfriend, as a narrator. Both characters have led such different lives and are making choices from such different viewpoints that the action in the story really stems from the disparity in their thoughts and inner turmoils rather than any action taking place around them.

Because of this, I fell Condie kept the external action to a minimum. In Crossed, Cassia and Ky have both been sent to the Outer Provinces where a war is waging between Citizens and members of The Rising. Both of them escape their assigned locations and, along with some additional help, end up reuniting in The Carving - a cave system that felt a little Grand Canyonish to me. As they travel through The Carving trying to find the rebellion we learn about the history behind those who decided to live outside Society, Ky's past, and what both he and Cassia are willing to do for love.

This is a book about inner strength, about using what you know but also what you feel for others to make those hard choices that will define your life. It's so much more than the second part of an epic journey that could eventually bring down a corrupt way of life. I don't know what the final installment in this trilogy will hold, but I'm definitely looking forward to both the outcome for this world and of the lives of the characters we have really gotten a chance to know.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough

Mary Bennet, the middle sister in Pride and Prejudice never really had much depth of character. She wasn't an insatiable flirt like Lydia and Kitty nor of marrying age like Jane and Elizabeth. As a result, she floats through the story hardly noticed in Austen's extremely popular novel. This gives McCullough a lot of wiggle room to imagine a life for Mary well into spinsterhood.

Mary reaches her independence in her late 30's well after the marriages of all her other sisters and only due to the passing of her mother, the nosy Mrs. Bennet. Defying proper behavior of a single woman, Mary decides to explore the plight of the poor in England first-hand in order to write a book. She travels alone via transport used mainly by a poorer class of people which paves the way for all kinds of drama and intrigue.

In true McCullough fashion we're brought into a world where nobody is really happy to start with, yet they're all doing what need to be done to stay alive and take care of each other. While things improve for mostly everyone by the end the road isn't easy. Not everyone makes it. Full of lots of intense moments and heightened situations, Miss Mary Bennet's path to independence is an exciting story. The tone feels like a mix between a romance novel of today (without the sex) and a Gothic novel from the Victorian Era (without the supernatural element).

This was an interesting read although Mary doesn't feature as prevalently as I had thought before opening up the book. She's hardly a player until the last quarter of the novel. The narrative is more about the entire Bennet family and the people who have been pulled into their lives. I'd list this book as a quick, action-packed read good for a plane trip or somewhere where you have to sit and wait for a long time. If you really want to sample McCullough's work though and haven't read The Thorn Birds yet run out and get that today!