I know I just finished the blog tour for Broken Wings and did the review, so most visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction probably aren’t expecting another review so soon. But, hey, I waited a day and I can’t wait any longer.
Unlike my normal reading pattern these days, I inhaled Captives, a young adult dystopian fantasy by Jill Williamson. What an awesome book. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to give you a disclaimer so you understand my perspective as you read this review. I haven’t read a dystopian novel since Brave New World and 1984. No, I didn’t read the Hunger Games series or Veronica Roth’s books or any of the others in that genre which has been all the rage.
Why is that significant? Perhaps what I think is fresh and inventive will not seem so, at least to the same degree, to those who have read the more recent dystopian novels. All I can tell you, of course, is my opinion from my limited perspective.
For those of you who may not know what kinds of stories fit into the dystopian category, they are ones like the TV series Revolution. So here we go.
The Story. A plague initially carried in the water supply wiped out most of the population of earth. However, a small community with access to clean water survived. They walled themselves in, named themselves the Safe Lands, and built a society utilizing some of the most advanced technology available. The goal of the citizens is to live happy, pleasurable lives. Their “have a nice day” has morphed into “have pleasure in life.”
A handful of small communities exist outside the walled city, also relying on the same water source, but these people do not have the resources or the technology of those in the Safe Lands. They rely on scavenging and hunting to survive. To them, family and community relationships are of utmost importance, and they adhere to the traditions that have been passed down from their elders.
Another major difference exists between the two cultures: the people in the Safe Lands are all infected with a virus passed through bodily fluids. Along with other symptoms, their women can no longer bear children.
The outsiders, however, are healthy, monogamous, and have strong familial ties.
The Guild governing the Safe Lands decide they need to bring in outsiders to repopulate their land. Hence, with the help of one young disgruntled outsider, they forcibly take the entire village of Glenrock captive—those they don’t kill—and move them into the Safe Lands. One young man, engaged to be married, was away during the attack, and he determines to get his people back.
Strengths. What isn’t a strength in this story? I’ll be honest—I love Jill Williamson’s writing. Her stories engage me from the beginning, and I race through them. You might say I find them to be page-turners. But in my experience, page-turners, books I gulp down, tend to be ones I quickly forget. That’s not the case with Captives.
First, the characters are memorable, distinct, engaging—even the sell-out who enabled the Safe Landers to capture the people of Glenrock. From time to time I complain about multiple-points-of-view stories, largely because I feel disconnected from all the characters. Captives is a story about Levi, Omar, Mason (three brothers), and Shaylinn. There’s even a prologue in the point of view of one of the Safe Landers, and yet I feel equally invested in each one of the characters, though I admit I was initially partial to Mason.
Jill has done a remarkable job making me care for each person as they adjust to life as honored prisoners. I understand their motives and the decisions each makes. I cheer for them to be wise and careful and strong. I want them to resist the temptations that the “have pleasure in life” way of living throws at them. I even want them to escape the consequences of the situation in which they’ve been thrust. It’s heart rending at times.
The plot obviously is filled with conflict. The overarching story question is, will the captives escape or will they choose to become a part of the Safe Lands? That question, in one form or another, drives the plot.
Stated in that way, it doesn’t seem so different from run-of-the-mill kidnap stories, but another significant factor in Captives is the setting. Jill has created such an incredible world–with advanced technology but with enough connection to our culture today, that it feels so real. She’s created future slang, future attitudes toward reproduction, future monetary system, future approach to employment, future entertainment, future penal system, future outlook on growing old and on death, and more.
Each of these, standing in stark contrast to the outsiders and their traditions, creates a spotlight on our own culture, which of course, lays the groundwork for the themes of Captive. In short, this novel has all the elements of a good story, in the proper doses.
Weaknesses. I have one issue that’s really too picky to mention and another one I’m willing to ignore. So that’s it.
OK, for those of you too curious to accept such a brush off, the too picky issue has to do with time. The story takes place in 2088, but that seems too close to now for the traditions in both cultures to have built up. I like the fact that it isn’t in the distant future because that makes the similarities with our culture believable. But I think a better time might have been another generation later–maybe 2120 or somewhere around there.
The other point which I willingly ignored and only thought about because I was planning this review, is something that happened too easily. It would be a huge spoiler to go into detail, but there was a character made a dramatic change. I thought it was believable and well motivated, but other characters seemed to accept this change with little angst or serious working through of issues that should be worked through.
Recommendation. Great book. Really entertaining, full of material that provokes thought and, potentially, discussion. Love this story. For young adults–must read. I think any reader could enjoy it. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys a story with a gripping conflict and engaging characters.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher with no restrictions or requirements on what I might write.