May 24, 2011

The Art of War (Review: Tomorrow, When The War Began by John Marsden)

Tomorrow, When The War Began
John Marsden
Quercus 2011

When Ellie and her group of friends head off into the bush for a week of camping, the most exciting thing on the horizon is the fact that this is the first time they’ve been away, boys and girls, unsupervised. They head directly to a remote area of the outback known only as Hell and spend a week eating, sleeping, talking and flirting. The only sign of the outside world is a flyover by several military jets – odd, but not inexplicable considering the annual Commencement Day celebrations going on back in town. However, as Ellie, Homer, Fi, Corrie, Kevin, Lee and Robyn drive back to town it quickly becomes clear that all is not well. Houses are abandoned, pets and cattle left to sicken and die, electricity and phone lines cut off. Confused and frightened, Ellie quickly realises that they’ve walked into the middle of an invasion and that the Hell they have left is nothing compared to the hell that they have returned to.

If Tomorrow, When The War Began truly has a protagonist, then it is definitely Ellie. While she would prefer to think of herself as narrator or documenter of her friends story (having been nominated for this task by the rest) she distinctly lacks objectivity and splashes every inside thought over the pages that she writes. However, her viewpoint is fascinating and through her clear voice and blunt storytelling readers are introduced to each character in an, if unobjective, pretty unbiased manner. Ellie’s overwhelming strength seems to be her logic – something that allows her to make difficult split second decisions. She’s also pretty good at compartmentalising her thoughts and emotions. From her tentative feelings towards Homer and Lee to her distress over her own violent actions as they face down enemies, she boxes it all away. This reads, very believably, as a young girl desperately trying to protect herself from a ghastly situation. When her carefully constructed walls do come tumbling down the effect is heart-wrenching and riveting.

The other characters, as seen through Ellie’s eyes, are no less compelling. Homer and Lee (somewhat inevitably, considering the narrator) quickly emerge as the most interesting. Homer is particularly fascinating in his metamorphosis from class clown to capable leader and his clearness of thought is a pleasure to read. Lee is a pleasingly quiet and underplayed character but one whose interactions with the group are again clearly thought through. His interactions with Ellie are especially touching. Of the rest of the group, Fi is perhaps the most readable – she’s a pleasing contradiction of silly, girlishness and inner resilience and is instantly likeable. Robyn and Chris gain lesser roles but philosophise interestingly on the reasons for war while bullish Kevin and gentle Corrie round out a strong cast of characters.

Tomorrow, When The War Began (and the subsequent series that followed) were a huge hit when they were released to ‘90s Australia and continue to be widely read and adored in Oz to this day recently spawning a feature film, attracting a new generation of readers and finally garnering publication in the UK. It’s not hard to see why – as well as strong characters, the writing is gripping, the plot simple yet thrilling and the ending suitably climactic. While much of the book is necessarily grim, Marsden also includes plenty of (mainly gallows) humour so readers never feel too overwhelmed by the situation the characters find themselves in. Where Marsden particularly excels, though, is in his ability to write teen-speak that reads believably. While I cannot vouch for the many Australian-isms that pepper the text, the way in which the group interact and talk to each other rings absolutely true and provides this title with a core strength on which the story is then built. The central premise of an Australia under attack plays out nicely and is explained in as much as a group of teens can explain it. It's never entirely clear who the enemy are, only that they have arrived in force to a country that has never prepared for the threat of invasion. Through the characters eyes, the invasion has occurred in an almost eerie silence and this gives their enemies a very sinister edge.

Certainly this is a book that I wish I'd had access to as a teen – I'd have loved it then – but one that I've really enjoyed reading from an adult standpoint. Often it seems that YA fiction has been written with a knowing nod to not so YA readers and it's refreshing to read a book that is aimed squarely at it's teen audience. I'd recommend this to readers across the board and am keen to read the follow up as soon as possible.

Tomorrow, When The War Began is available now. Thank you to Quercus for sending me this title to review.

May 15, 2011

Libranos Del Mal (Review: The Cursed Ones by Nancy Holder and Debbie Vigue)

The Cursed Ones (Crusade, #1)The Cursed Ones
Nancy Holder and Debbie Vigue
Simon Pulse 2010

In Jenn's world things are much like they are they are in Sookie Stackhouse's – but less sexy. Yep, vampires have come out of the coffin, so to speak, and have been wreaking havoc on the world ever since. Jenn can remember when head vamp Solomon took to the world stage to announce that vampires just wanted to live peacefully, man, existing on animal blood and extending fangs of friendship to all who were willing to accept. Except Solomon wasn't telling the entire truth – in fact, he wasn't telling the truth at all. Jenn now lives in a world where vampires have fought and effectively won a war on humanity, leaving said humanity living under a truce. In this case, a truce by any other name would still be an, er, militia state with the vampires being the militia. While much of the world, including Jenn's own family, live in a state of truly unhealthy denial there are individuals such as Jenn herself who have taken up arms, joining resistance groups or training to be Hunters. The Hunters are basically small teams of Buffys trying to make a difference wherever they can. Jenn's team is based in Spain at the Salamanca Academy, a church run training school and they've just stepped up to the front line.

Jenn and her crew of not so merry men are some of the most interesting characters I've met in recent vampire fiction. Jenn is, ironically, the least interesting of the bunch – probably because she is the most ordinary. Her back story is compelling, as is the interplay between her and her father but her woe-is-me stance became a little tiresome over the course of what is a fairly long story. However, in order for her character to develop it was absolutely necessary for her to have little confidence to begin with and while I didn't really feel that her confidence grew over the course of the book, the ending does promise improvements on that score. While Jenn herself edges in as main protagonist there are sections from multiple other viewpoints, allowing the reader to get to know each character from the inside out. And what a mucky crew they are. From Irish Jamie, with his IRA roots and temper issues, to Buddhist Eriko who doesn't know quite why's she's there any more, they are all fascinating. Wiccan Skye has a dark secret that is literally stalking her and werewolf Holgar is desperately lonely without the company of a pack. Then there is Antonio – resident vampire-with-a-soul (maybe) and love interest of Jenn. He could have been a fairly predictable character but his religious background adds depth to his story and raises interesting questions for later installments.

What is by far the most interested aspect of The Cursed Ones is the interplay between the group members and between the group as a whole and their mysterious mentor Father Juan. Each member of the group was drawn to Salamanca for their own personal reasons and Father Juan seems to have styled himself as a kind of Catholic Charles Xavier meets Giles, albeit overseeing a group far more dysfunctional than either Buffy's Scoobies or Wolverine's X-Men. No member seems to entirely trust the rest – in fact, most of them seem to only barely trust Father Juan. They all arrived at Salamanca carrying their own prejudices and continue to carry them even while working together. The inclusion of vampire Antonio is an obvious source of rancor but none of them seem 100% sure of friendly werewolf Holgar either, particularly Jamie who has good reason to dislike him on principal. Add to that the fact that this lot were probably never going to get on anyway and you have a grouping that is satisfyingly fractured. It is also great to see a group that represents nationalities other than Americans – Irish, Japanese, English, Spanish and Danish nationals make up the Salamancan hunters, along with American Jenn and it was nice to see the “world” part of “world conflict” acknowledged. My only issue with the interesting group dynamic would be the relationship between Jenn and Antonio – it's seemed trite, having been done before so many times and had it been removed entirely would have left little to miss.

The plot itself is at once simple and also fairly complex. The basic story is that the group are required to undertake a rescue mission in New Orleans but the over-arching story line focuses more on the history of this group of hunters, the basis on which the Salamancan Academy was founded and the larger world at war. These two aspects don't always sit together particularly well, with the rescue mission probably being the weaker side of the story. However, I cannot fault the world building – the vision that the authors produce of a world overrun by the undead is pretty excellent. The writing is generally decent although I could have done without the, quite frankly, awful vampire propaganda poetry that headed up many chapters. Finally, it is a completely refreshing pleasure to read about a world where vampires are (with the exception of the God-fearing Antonio, satisfyingly wicked. The Cursed Ones is the first in a series and I'm pretty curious to see where the authors take the story – at the end of this book things are looking increasingly hopeless with the fight against the vampires looking unwinnable. I assume a twist is on its way along the line – but I like that it could go either way and appreciate a a book that is brave enough to suggest that a world where vampires exist may not all be romance and sparkles.   

May 11, 2011

Winners Have Won...copies of Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on Jeri Smith-Ready's guest post on the Shift blog tour.
All comments were entered into a draw to win copies of the book and the winners are...drumroll....

Signed copy of Shift:  Safari Poet
Unsigned copy of Shift:  Teril

Congratulations!  Emails will be winging their way to you shortly.

Thanks again to Jeri for providing such a great prize and guest post and to Karen at For What It's Worth for organising the tour.

May 09, 2011

For Whatever We Lose... (Review: It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han)

It's Not Summer Without YouIt’s Not Summer Without You
Jenny Han
Razorbill 2011

It's Not Summer Without You is the follow up to The Summer I Turned Pretty - this review contains spoilers for book one.

A year has passed since the summer Belly turned pretty and much has changed. This year she finds herself at local pool parties rather than the beach house at Cousins. After a long struggle, Susannah has finally submitted in her fight with cancer, Belly no longer knows how to talk to best friend, Jeremiah and Conrad is even less accessible than before. When Conrad disappears from his college dorm shortly before his finals, Belly finds herself recruited by Jeremiah to track down his brother – a search that leads them all, inevitably, to the sea.

Belly hasn’t had the easiest year. While she has certainly matured since the previous summer, she’s still very much her age. In fact, she’s one of the most realistic teenage portrayals that I’ve come across in YA fiction. Still reeling under the weight of both first love and first heartbreak, she now also finds herself confronted with true grief for the first time. For Belly these three aspects are closely linked and she often seems to be unable to distinguish between them. As in The Summer I Turned Pretty, Belly often seems self-centred and sometimes a little prone to melodrama, bringing every turn of events around to herself, something which other characters often point out. While this could be (and occasionally is) pretty irritating, Belly is not unkind nor is she selfish – she’s just sixteen and trying to wend her way through unfamiliar waters. Her interactions with both Jeremiah and Conrad are often frustrating, variably mortifying and entirely believable.

Unlike The Summer I Turned Pretty, It’s Not Summer Without You uses a duel narrative structure. While the majority of the story is still told from Belly’s perspective there are also sections told by Jeremiah. It would be hard to dislike Jeremiah - his sunny personality and general optimism shine through even in the darkest of moments. This becomes increasingly surprising as he slowly elaborates on his home life, his relationship with Conrad and his feelings for Belly – he doesn’t have it particularly easy but his nature seems to dictate that he will always be the one smoothing things over, laughing and trying to make everyone else feel better. Inevitably this leads to his own feelings and especially his own grief being somewhat overlooked. While he clearly believes that his feelings towards Belly are genuine, they could easily end up being rather flash-in-the-pan. Time will tell.

Where Jeremiah parades everything out front, Conrad internalises absolutely everything. As in the previous book, he stomps through much of It’s Not Summer Without You like an unexploded bomb – just waiting for something to set him off. Belly seems a likely trigger but he’s to busy shutting her out to let her appear to bother him. He’s a rather excellent portrayal of a young man completely overwhelmed by feelings of pain, loss and longing and is paradoxically sympathetic and infuriating to read. His actions towards Belly are entirely understandable although not in any real way excusable. However, no matter how cruelly he behaves, it’s hard to get angry at a character who is floundering so completely and there was a small interaction between him and Belly’s mother towards the end of the book that moved me to tears.

The plot of It’s Not Summer Without You is simple and almost, although not quite, predictable. This works extremely well in a book that is more character than plot driven. The three main characters are such a pleasure to read and so completely real that the plot becomes almost superfluous. More than anything they act in ways that are entirely recognisable to anyone who has ever been a teenager. Things going to hell? Let’s have a party and drink lots of tequila. Things going to hell and now you’re drunk? Let’s drunk dial mummy and get her to fix things up. It’s great – real, funny and moving. More than anything, this book is a lovely essay on loss, grief and friendship with the Fisher and Conklin families so inextricably linked that the very sight of each other triggers intense feelings that they’d would all, at one point or another, rather ignore.

The book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger. I have my own ideas of where things are going. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Conrad’s done with Belly quite yet. He's the keeper, mark my words... although where that leaves his relationship with his brother or Belly's relationship with her best friend, I've no idea. When I initially read The Summer I Turned Pretty, I wasn't convinced, but on reading this second instalment I've absolutely fallen in love with this series. Jenny Han's books really are the imbued with the ocean, the sun and the salt air – they are summer reading at its best while also being genuinely thoughtful, compelling and intriguing. I can't wait for We'll Always Have Summer and will certainly be re-reading this series come sunny days of the future.

May 04, 2011

Interview with Patrick Ness and extract of A Monster Calls.

Today, I am exceedingly excited to welcome Patrick Ness to The Mountains of Instead as part of a blog tour organised by Walker Books. As regular readers will know, I'm a huge fan of his YA trilogy Chaos Walking and was keen to read his latest book, A Monster Calls. I can confirm that it is excellent and am delighted that Patrick has taken the time to discuss it here. Read what he has to say about the book and then keep reading for a short extract. After all that I am certain you will be unable to stop yourself from investing in a copy of A Monster Calls – you're in luck, as it's released in the UK this week.  If all of this isn't enough to whet your appetite then a second extract will be posted on the awesome Serendipity this Friday, 6th March. First of all, however, here's what Patrick had to say about his new book:

You talk in the forward of A Monster Calls about your decision to take on Siobhan Dowd's original idea – how much did you originally have to work with, was there the bare bones of an entire plot or just a fantastic premise?

There were the characters, some early prose, and - as you say - a really fantastic premise. It was actually the perfect amount, incredibly rich materials, but not so much that the story couldn't be allowed to grow just like Siobhan would have done had she been able to write it herself. And a story MUST grow, it has to live and breathe and surprise, and her premise was such a fertile ground for that. It was a pleasure for a writer, truly.

Was there any point during the writing where you felt the pressure to complete a book that would truly honour Siobhan's memory might be too much? I can imagine that writing from someone else idea may almost be more pressurised than writing from a basis that is all your own...

Not really, and I mean that in the most positive way. I always, for every book, feel that the story has the be the number one priority above everything else, and it was the same here. I HAD to concentrate on making it the best story I could, which to me was, in turn, the best possible tribute to Siobhan I could have made. My guiding principle wasn't "What would Siobhan have written?" but "What would Siobhan have liked?" Otherwise, you write a bad book, and that's the worst thing that could happen.

A Monster Calls is filled with the most stunning illustration by Jim Kay. Were you part of a creative dialogue with him while he created the artwork?

Definitely, and aren't they AMAZING? He's brilliant. We worked together with Ben Norland, art director at Walker, and discussed different approaches and ideas, but mainly Jim just kept hitting them out of the park. The picture of the monster leaning against Conor's window was the very first drawing he did, and it was so perfect, it never changed. It was a great experience.

The monster himself is beautifully realised. As with the Manchee and Angharrad in Chaos Walking you seem to have a knack for imbuing non-humans with a particularly touching humanity – did you have his personality (and theirs for that matter) down straight away or did you feel the need to research his possible origins and work from there?

Not research, but mostly by just letting him talk and finding what he sounded like. I did have a few ideas, but I wanted, too, to hear what he said for himself and how he said it. They can really surprise you, characters, and that's kind of when they really come to life. The key moment here was early on when Conor completely refuses to be impressed by the monster, and instead of getting angry, the monster more or less puts his hands on his hips and say, "Interesting." I knew I had him when he did that.

In contrast with this, the human characters in your books are
realistically flawed and you seem thematically drawn to the ambiguity of human nature and the infinite thoughts that lie behind decisions and actions – it's fascinating but what would
you say draws you to look at human nature in this way? It is particularly unusual to see in YA fiction – although not at all unwelcome.

Well, I think blind certainty kills us as a species. It's death to wisdom, it's death to growth, it can even be death to hope. That is a big concern for me that shows up a lot in my writing, and here in particular, Conor is deathly certain about something that's causing him great, great pain. It's so important for him to learn that he's more than just one thing, that contradictions can be revealing and not stifling, that, basically, he's complex, like the rest of us and that that's okay, it's not going to kill him. Acknowledging it, I hope, lets him grow, lets him maybe heal, lets him at least live a little easier.

While your books have thus far have mainly been published for the Young Adult market, I see no reason why they wouldn't do equally well with adults (being one myself, I've passed Chaos Walking onto many friends with great success) – is there a reason that you chose to write for Young Adults and would you consider writing for adults in the future?

I've written two books for adults in the past, so I never rule anything out. I tend to write every book - YA or not - for an audience of one: me. That sounds terrible, but if I'm not enjoying it, why would I ever think anyone else would? I do love writing for young adults, they're such a brilliant audience: strict but not snobs, the best combination. But I do really write the books, I hope, for anyone to read. And who knows what the future might bring?

Finally, with A Monster Calls out shortly and already garnering critical acclaim and Monsters of Men netting you a third Carnegie nomination (and hopefully a win) I hear that you are writing again – can you tell us anything about what to expect next from Patrick Ness?

Nope! I'm definitely writing, but early ideas need protecting, I don't tell them to anyone (at all). They need the freedom to grow and stumble and make mistakes while they find their feet. But I'm definitely writing.

Thank you, Patrick, for such interesting answers and thank you to Walker Books for facilitating this interview.  Now, get on and read the extract below then invest in a copy - you won't regret it.  If you'd like to know more about Patrick and his books you can find him on Twitter, Facebook and on his own website.  Finally, for more info on Walker Books' great YA catalogue take a look at Undercover

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - Extract One

A Monster Calls

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
Conor was awake when it came.
He’d had a nightmare. Well, not nightmare. The nightmare. The one he’d been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with–
Go away,” Conor whispered into the darkness of his bedroom, trying to push the nightmare back, not let it follow him into the world of waking. “Go away now.”
He glanced over at the clock his mum had put on his bedside table. 12.07. Seven minutes past midnight. Which was late for a school night, late for a Sunday, certainly.
He’d told no one about the nightmare. Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fortnightly (or so) phone call, definitely not his grandma, and no one at school. Absolutely not.
What happened in the nightmare was something no one else ever needed to know.
Conor blinked groggily at his room, then he frowned. There was something he was missing. He sat up in his bed, waking a bit more. The nightmare was slipping from him, but there was something he couldn’t put his finger on, something different, something–
He listened, straining against the silence, but all he could hear was the quiet house around him, the occasional tick from the empty downstairs or a rustle of bedding from his mum’s room next door.
And then something. Something he realized was the thing that had woken him.
Someone was calling his name.

Seeker of Truth (Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness)

A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness
Walker Books 2011

On a dark, quiet night in a dark, quiet mood, Conor lies in bed waiting for his nightmare to start, the nightmare that has been haunting him for the past year, taunting him with it's content and ghosting through even his waking hours. Instead, just after midnight (naturally) a huge, dark and twisting figure makes it's way towards Conor's house. This monster, a being as old as the earth it walks upon demands something far more frightening than its own knarled visage and ancient wrath – it demands to know, in return for three tales, Conor's truth. Yet Conor's truth, the secret knowledge that lies within his heart is the very thing he doesn't want to give - for therein lies his greatest fear.

Conor is a compelling protagonist. At thirteen, he is the child of a single parent and is becoming increasingly aware that his mother's year long illness is not improving. He copes with this mainly by serving himself an unhealthy portion of denial but is subconsciously (and occasionally consciously) aware of the possibilities of a motherless future. This conflict between reality and hope results in Conor being massively conflicted. He wants to be seen but not seen; heard but not heard; loved but ultimately dismissed. To mention much more about the inner workings of his mind would be to ruin the story suffice to say that he comes across as an exceptionally brave character who it is impossible not to root for throughout. Like many young carers he often seems mature and composed for his age but the scenes he shares with his usually absent father remind readers that he is only just stepping out of childhood and doing so under the cruellest of circumstances.

The three main adults in Conor's life are all very different. His mother is loving, concerned and desperate for a miracle more, one senses, for Conor than for her own well-being. His Grandmother strides around, Helen Mirren-esque and not at all Grandmotherly, unsure how to suddenly cope with a Grandson whose personality so obviously clashes with her own while also coping with the illness of a beloved daughter. Finally, there is Conor's largely absent father, a man of great uselessness and vague kindnesses – he has essentially written his way out of Conor's life and barely knows his son, never mind how to comfort him. To talk too much about the monster itself would again ruin the reading experience, but it is a creation of great force, tenderness and terror. At times it is truly ferocious, the weight of its long existence adding a frightening gravitas to its statements. At other times, though, it is kind. It sometimes gets a little caught up in its own grandstanding and is even, occasionally, slyly humorous. It is also, appropriately, a rather excellent storyteller.

The plot of A Monster Calls is remarkably simple, if not entirely straightforward. From the opening page the momentum slowly builds towards a crashing and cathartic finale. The writing is exceptionally good. Patrick Ness has chosen to use uncomplicated prose and has embodied both Conor and the monster with clear, strong, individual voices. This is a story of many quiet, yet powerful moments. There are scenes between Conor and his Grandmother, in particular, that are so laden with unspoken, shared grief and miscommunication that they become hard to read yet they are also beautiful in their stark truth. Equally, there are scenes of great tension that are extraordinarily thrilling to read – one scene involving Conor and Harry, the school bully, is nothing short of electrifying.

As Ness's first outing since the phenomenally successful Chaos Walking series, A Monster Calls will inevitably invite comparison but such comparison is largely arbitrary. What the author has proven in this title is that he is able to write just as astoundingly as seen before, albeit in a completely different style. While A Monster Calls bares little resemblance to his previous books, he does return to vaguely similar themes, again looking at the shades of grey that lie behind every thought and every action. He also subtly focusses the reader on the ambiguousness of good and bad and the very nature of truth. It's all beautifully done and A Monster Calls, like Chaos Walking, will leave readers with much to think about. It is also impossible to review this book without mentioning the illustrations provided by Jim Kay. They devour whole pages and creep insidiously through the text adding atmosphere and beauty, creating a book that is a joy to hold as well as to read.

To work with another author must be difficult at times and the decision to take on the work of a much loved, deceased author must be agonising yet Patrick Ness has taken the idea first realised by Siobhan Dowd and created a heart-wrenching story that is a true honour to her name. I highly recommend A Monster Calls and all previous by both authors – these are writers that truly encourage the reader to confront the deeper meanings in every day life. Stunning.

More on A Monster Calls later today with an extract of the book and an interview with Patrick Ness.

A Monster Calls is released today.  Thank you to Walker Books for sending me this title to review.

May 02, 2011

Heart And Nerve And Sinew (Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth)

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent
Veronica Roth
Harper Collins 2011

Beatrice has grown up living selflessly in all ways, right down to rarely seeing her own reflection lest it encourage her to focus on herself rather than others. Everything she does, both at home and out in the wider world is to help other people – this is because she belongs to the societal faction of Abnegation, a section of the community who believe that selfishness is the root of all problems. At sixteen, Beatrice isn't entirely sure that she's cut out for a life of never thinking of herself and faces a choice between Abnegation, with her family, and the four other factions that make up her society: Dauntless, Erudite, Candor and Amity who respectively favour the qualities of bravery, intelligence, honesty and peace. Before making her choice, Beatrice undergoes an aptitude test in the hope that the results will guide her towards a suitable faction. However, the results are less than clear and Beatrice must face her future with a secret that could end her new life before it's even begun.

Tris is a superb protagonist – she is certainly one of the strongest female characters that I have read in YA fiction (topped only by Viola Eade of Chaos Walking). At the beginning of Divergent she is introspective, quiet and used to blending into the background of Abnegation. However, once her aptitude test begins, readers start to see that Tris has a core of steel and an exceptionally independent mind. Not only that, but she's extremely determined, focused and brave. Tris is also ambitious and at times it seems that she will do whatever it takes to succeed . She's never unkind, but neither does she allow herself to be walked on. She doubts herself often yet never lets this disrupt her focus and, when everything hits the fan, she steps up to the plate and makes difficult choices and decisions – some in the most brutal way – because she knows what needs to be done.

One of the most interesting aspects of Divergent is Tris's interaction with others. Tris hasn't had a close friendship with anyone before and her burgeoning camaraderie with Christina, Will and Al is fascinating, especially when contrasted with her growing friendships with Uriah, Marlene and Lynn. Making friends when you are in a competitive environment can be hard, especially when you realise you can manipulate them to help you get where you need to be. Tris never consciously uses her new friends, but nor are the boundaries of their friendships well defined. These relationships are cleverly written leaving readers never entirely sure of the depth of these new bonds. Equally, Tris's relationship to Four is often left hazy and undefined. He, like Tris, is an exceptionally well written character. Almost brutal in his focus yet also principled and respectful, he often seems a complete conundrum. Unlike so many male characters in YA, he is believably flawed. He's not particularly nice all the time, nor is he always kind – but he is a good man trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. His relationship with Tris is touching in the extreme, yet never predictable and the secrets in his past and present add a tragic depth to his already multi-faceted persona.

While the character development and relationships in Divergent are fantastic, what lifts this dystopian tale high above others in the genre is Veronica Roth's exceptional vision of the future. Set in an almost unrecognisable Chicago, the idea of a society splintered intentionally into different factions works incredibly well. Unlike many dystopian books, Roth actually touches on the reasons why the system exists as it does. Her main premise is that society became so terrified of the promise of war that it split itself into groups based on what individuals felt were the main causes of strife. Clearly, a system such as this would be at best hopelessly naive at at worst fatally flawed and from the start of Divergent, Roth explores the cracks that splinter across her dystopian vision – incorporating the societal issues into a gripping plot that is part coming of age, part political thriller, part whirlwind action and 100% excellent.

Divergent is by far the best book that I have read this year. Of all the dystopian titles out there at the moment it probably sits closer in style and vision to The Hunger Games than, say, Delirium or Matched. However, I'm going to come right out and say that Divergent is superior to The Hunger Games on every level. Veronica Roth's writing is exceptional (the way she incorporates the architectural landscape of Chicago to create a familiar yet frightening landscape is astoundingly good), her vision of the future co-cohesive, bleak and often terrifying and as Divergent approaches it's gripping climax she takes no prisoners. I highly recommend this book – it's astonishing.

Divergent is available now. Thank you to Harper Collins for providing me with this title to review.